Durban – Shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo painted a grim picture of politically connected killings and violence directed at the indigent at the Moerane Commission of inquiry on Wednesday.
Abahlali founder and elected president S’bu Zikode testifying on behalf of the organisation, told commissioners that he had “absolutely no doubt” that killings of members or acts of violence directed at the organisation and those close to it were politically motivated.
Abahlali made headlines recently for protesting against eThekwini’s land invasion unit being used to “terrorise” shack dwellers during “brutal evictions”. It has also been vocal about corruption among ANC councillors during housing allocations.
Responding to questions by the commission’s evidence leader, advocate Bheki Manyathi, Zikode listed members of Abahlali or its supporters who had allegedly been killed by police since 2013.
His testimony included the well publicised 2014 assassination of Abahlali’s KwaNdengezi chairperson, Thuli Ndlovu.
Ndlovu was killed by a hitman hired by eThekwini ANC councillors Mduduzi Ngcobo and Velile Lutsheku after she made it known that the men were allocating housing to ANC members who were not from the area.
The councillors and hitman were found guilty of her murder and sentenced to life in prison, but last year the Mercury newspaper revealed that Ngcobo and Velile were still on the city’s payroll while they were seeking to appeal.
eThekwini declined to answer ANA when asked if, a year later, Ngcobo and Lutsheku were still receiving salaries.
Speaking in isiZulu with an interpreter present and with about 75 Abahali members in attendance, Zikode said that he had personally been on the receiving end of death threats, that the organisation’s office was torched when it was still located at the Kennedy Road informal settlement in 2009 and that efforts were made to paint shack dwellers as violent criminals plotting against the ANC and government.
Zikode testified that the organisation became something of an established pariah in local and provincial political circles when, in 2009, it won a constitutional court case challenging the constitutionality of the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act.
Other Abahlali members or affiliates that the movement believed had been killed for political reasons included Thembinkosi Qumbela, Nkululeko Gwala and 15-year-old Ngobile Nzuza. All were killed in Cato Crest on separate occasions in 2013.
On Friday last week, a police officer was found guilty in the shooting death of Nzuza. His sentencing takes place on 9 October.
Speaking about Gwala’s death, Zondi said: “We believe he was shot because of the corruption he was exposing. Nkululeko was an intelligent leader, sociable, commanded respect from the community and built hope and confidence. He has a good following amongst the popular masses, which threatened those in political leadership, who were unable to interact with community the way he did”.
Zondi told the commission that Nkosinathi Mngomezulu was shot eight times in the stomach by police during the 2013 during protests. Mngomezulu survived and was in the audience on Wednesday.
Zondi also testified about the death in June this year of Samuel Hlole who was shot during a flare-up when municipal security guards were demolishing shacks in eMansenseni informal settlement.
The death of baby Jayden Khoza was also relayed to the commission. The infant died at the Foreman Road informal settlement in late May during clashes between police and residents after a service delivery protest turned sour.
Community members believe the child died from inhaling tear gas, but the State pathologist ruled the death to be of natural causes.
Speaking to ANA at the commission, Zikode said that he expected “nothing” to come out of the inquiry.
“We are not expecting anything from this in the way of prosecutions, but it is a healing process. It is a way for us to tell people what we are experiencing and continue experiencing on a daily basis,” he said.
According to KwaZulu-Natal’s human settlements department, the province has about 663 informal settlements - 334,000 households - with 238,000 of those being in the eThekwini area.