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Age of the Assassin: Ayanda Ngila died for the principl...

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Age of the Assassin: Ayanda Ngila died for the principles enshrined in the Paris Commune 151 years ago

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Jonis Ghedi Alasow is Executive Director of Pan Africa Today, an organisation committed to building strength and unity among progressive organisations throughout the African continent. His writing and research include areas of land, popular politics, and pan-Africanism.

The assassination of Ayanda Ngila is an ultimatum to all the people of South Africa. We can either defend the principles he died for, or we can align ourselves with the worldview that we are mere pawns in the ongoing game of theft, accumulation and destruction.

Today, 18 March 2022, marks exactly 151 years since the people of Paris conceived of freedom and subsequently made themselves free. Led by the women of the city, power was seized from the Third Republic and a genuine people’s government was established.

Although the Commune was brutally crushed in a bloody reversal of the gains made by the communards, the 72 days of the Paris Commune have inspired experiments in full democracy from Guangzhou in China to the Zapatistas in Mexico.

The bravery of these ordinary Parisians alongside the vision of the world they were trying to create has inspired generations. In constructing a new society, the communards committed themselves to a truly free future by adopting the purest definition of “democracy”.

Leaders were elected and could be recalled the moment people were dissatisfied with their service to society. The people governed and sustained themselves; they abolished the death penalty and recognised leisure time as a human right. They socialised food rations, nurseries for children and the defence of the city. The communards, in a time of severe social crisis, concretely demonstrated the material utopia that could be constructed in the ruins of a devastated France.

Closer to home in South Africa, where human deprivation has become so common that it has desensitised people everywhere, these pages have reported on a lifegiving commune that was established in Cato Crest, Durban. In South Africa work is limited to one-quarter of young South Africans. There are no opportunities for our young people to build a dignified life. Against this backdrop, young people in Cato Crest built a commune in eKhenana to give life in a sea of destitution.

The commune boasts a collectively maintained poultry farm, garden, tuck shop, school and community hall. Homes in this “promised land” are occupied by people who agree that the land where they live is not a commodity to enrich a few. Instead, the commune operates on the principles of solidarity and collectivity. The spirit of ubuntu, which is so often invoked opportunistically, is alive in eKhenana. The community that built the commune forms part of a shack dwellers’ movement – Abahlali baseMjondolo – whose general assembly on 6 March 2022 was hosted at the commune.

Two days after this assembly, on International Women’s Day, Ayanda Ngila – a young leader of the commune – was assassinated in broad daylight. He was shot by several gunmen allegedly with close ties to local ANC politicians and business owners. The cold-blooded murder of this deputy chairperson of eKhenana has triggered broad outrage, but the significance of his assassination has received limited attention. In South Africa, where three people are murdered every hour, what is significant about the murder of Ayanda Ngila? Tragic as every wasted life is, this attack seems to go beyond one life. This was a murder of Ayanda and an attempt to kill what he was building.

The target of the assassins’ bullets on 8 March was the idea of the commune. Ayanda was a threat because of his uncompromising ideals which form part of a continuous thread that connects the aspirations of people from Paris to Guangzhou to Durban.

In a country where our news cycle is dominated by rivalries between competing kleptocratic and self-aggrandising elites in both government and business, Ayanda believed in something noble. He believed in the famous line that echoed from Kliptown in 1955 when South Africans declared boldly that “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it”.

As we mourn the death of a young man who took the promises of the Freedom Charter and the South African Constitution seriously, we are reminded that his assassination was directed. The ruling elites of this country directly and indirectly committed the horrendous crime of murder to destroy something life affirming. They wanted to kill the idea of democracy; they wanted to kill the union of theory and practice in the collective praxis of Ayanda and his comrades in eKhenana; they wanted to kill the South Africa that we all deserve.

As South Africans come to terms with the abyss illumined in the State Capture Report while stumbling in the darkness that has characterised the “new dawn” of Cyril Ramaphosa, Ayanda’s untimely and tragic death constitutes a call to action.

The solutions to the social, political and economic challenges that confront our country cannot be outsourced to those who have presided over the smothering of the flame of freedom in South Africa. The communards of eKhenana start their programmes with a song, The Internationale, which was composed in the wake of the murderous repression of the Paris Commune in 1871. The principles of the Paris Commune live on in eKhenana.

The brutality of Ayanda’s death cannot extinguish what he lived for. Those of us who seek to take the baton from him understand that his blood, like that of Solomon Mahlangu before him, will only nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom.      

This, however, demands that we answer the call to action before us. The assassination of Ayanda Ngila is an ultimatum to all the people of South Africa. We can either defend the principles he died for, or we can align ourselves with the worldview that we are mere pawns in the ongoing game of theft, accumulation and destruction.

Sadly, this ultimatum is absolute: we either stand with the people, who should govern, or we stand against the people with South Africa’s kleptocratic clique. MC/DM

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  • So, define stand since most politicians of the ANC would say they stand with the people but don’t, as you have so eloquently and poignantly told. Nice piece. Tx

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