It was as in life, so in death for murdered Cato Crest housing activist Nkululeko Gwala, whose funeral on Wednesday was marked by strong emotions and politically charged words.
Gwala, 34, was laid to rest in Inchanga, but not before the local ANC councillor provoked a storm of outrage from mourners by warning them not to bring issues to Inchanga that belonged elsewhere.
Among the mourners were many members of the shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, which is at loggerheads with the ANC.
Gwala, 34, was a member of the movement. He was gunned down in Cato Crest just hours after eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo and Health MEC Dr Sbongiseni Dhlomo – who is also the chairman of the ANC in the city – met residents at the Cato Crest Community Hall to discuss rising tension.
Calls were made at the meeting for Gwala to quit Cato Manor, where he had been in the thick of protest action over housing, and return to his home in Inchanga.
Speaking at the funeral, ANC councillor Dennis Shozi, of ward 4, which includes Inchanga, said: “Those from outside Inchanga should be aware that whatever happened outside this area should not be discussed here. Because we locals do not know what happened in Cato Crest. If we knew as ANC in Inchanga, we would be able to tell what happened to Gwala. So talking about what happened might provoke the situation,” said Shozi, who said he was speaking on behalf of the ANC.
There were more howls of outrage when the councillor mentioned that eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo had not been able to attend the funeral because of other commitments.
“The mayor is from this area, he had been in contact with the family preparing for the funeral... There is no organisation as caring as the ANC. This area belongs to the ANC,” he said. But the mood changed when Sbu Zikode, of Abahlali baseMjondolo, took to the podium, and the marquee, erected at Gwala’s homestead, erupted into Struggle songs.
He said the organisation had no political links or ambitions, except to address the needs of poor people whose voices had been suppressed by political leaders.
“We hear people saying let us not talk politics, but they themselves are talking it. We are here to tell the truth to the people of Inchanga, if we get killed let it be known what we stood up for... It is said Gwala died because he made people feel uncomfortable with his vigour to expose corruption,” said Zikode, a former Abahlali president.
Speakers described Gwala as always jovial despite life’s challenges; he would sing his lungs out and had many plans for the youth, despite having left school at Grade 4.
Meanwhile, KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas told the Daily News she did not understand why Dhlomo had attended an open community meeting in his capacity as an ANC chairman. She felt this had politicised what was supposed to be a meeting for all.
Dhlomo had told the meeting that Gwala should be banished and Nxumalo should take his “homeboy” Gwala back to Inchanga. About five hours later Gwala was found dead near his girlfriend’s Cato Crest home. He was shot 12 times.
“To say Gwala must leave the area was highly irresponsible as he had a constitutional right to be there,” she said.
Dhlomo denied his remarks had been inflammatory.
“I do not have an issue with what I said. Remember that I spoke after the mayor who had mentioned that Gwala was from his area, so I made it clear that the mayor should take him home. We intervened because government offices were torched...,” said Dhlomo.
Gwala leaves five children from different relationships.