Housing activist murdered in Durban

SERI calls for urgent investigation into Cato Manor police and other officials following Ayanda Ngila’s death

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Ayanda Ngila, a leader at the eKhenana informal settlement in Cato Manor, Durban was shot dead on Tuesday. Photo: Supplied

  • Activist Ayanda Ngila, who was a leader at the eKhenana informal settlement in Cato Manor, Durban, was shot dead on Tuesday.
  • His murder is believed to be a targeted attack on activists in the community linked to Abahlali BaseMjondolo.
  • Last year Ngila was among 11 activists who spent up to six months in jail, only to have the cases against them withdrawn. Abahlali has said that these arrests were an attempt to intimidate them and silence their fight for land.
  • Ngila is described as being instrumental in the fight for land and building the eKhenana commune.
  • The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA wants the Provincial Commissioner of Police and Minister of Police to investigate urgently the conduct of officers at the Cato Manor police station.

The community of eKhenana informal settlement in Cato Manor, Durban is mourning the death of activist Ayanda Ngila who was shot dead on Tuesday afternoon. He is survived by his young child, sisters and close family and friends.

Ngila was with other housing activists and members of Abahlali BaseMjondolo when four armed men attacked them in what Abahlali considers a targeted hit.

In October, GroundUp reported that the state had withdrawn charges against Ngila and three other activists who were accused of murdering a resident of eKhenana in 2020. The trio, all leaders in the informal settlement, spent about six months in jail. They were among 11 Abahlali-linked activists who were arrested on various charges ranging from murder, conspiracy to commit murder and assault. All these cases have since been withdrawn.

Abahlali has said that these arrests of were an attempt to intimidate them and silence their fight for land.

According to witnesses, Ngila and other activists were on their way to the commune after inspecting a leaking pipe when they were approached by four armed men. The men started shooting at the men in the group, including the chairperson of the informal settlement, Lindokuhle Mnguni.

“We scattered as they started shooting and ran to the nearest shack while others ran for cover. Ngila was already shot in the leg. He managed to drag himself next to the chicken shed where one of the armed men shot him at point-blank,” a witness told GroundUp.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed that Ngila was shot several times and had been declared dead at the scene. The man suspected of shooting Ngila is known to police and Mbele said on Wednesday morning that they are still looking for him.

Ngila, 30, was deputy chairperson of eKhenana commune. He was described by many as being instrumental in the fight for land and building the commune. During an interview with GroundUp soon after his release from jail last year, Ngila commented on the ongoing conflict in eKhenana. He said: “People are living in fear, they don’t know who is next to be assaulted or arrested, but the struggle continues.”

On Wednesday, eKhenana resident Langa Mbunguzane said: “He taught us to believe in ourselves and be disciplined. He wanted to change people’s lives and we will always remember him for his teachings and his love for the commune and Abahlali BaseMjondolo.”

In a statement, Abahlali BaseMjondolo blamed Ngila’s death on the family of a well-known ANC leader in the area. “The commune has come under relentless violent attack from the ANC, the police and the anti-land invasion unit. Its leaders have regularly been arrested on bogus charges, denied bail and detained in prison.”

Abahlali said that Ngila and other activists had been welcomed back to the informal settlement at a celebration on Sunday after they had been forced to leave their homes due to threats and intimidation attempts.

Chairperson of eKhenana and Ngila’s friend Lindokuhle Mguni said: “We knew something like this was likely to happen but giving up was not an option. They can kill us, but our ideas will live on forever.”

“He was a true leader,” said Mguni.

Ngila’s uncle Sthembiso Majola, who raised him, said he would meet Abahlali’s leaders on Wednesday and start planning his funeral. “He didn’t have a permanent job but he took care of his family. He was the man I raised him to be and I’m proud of the man he became,” said Majola.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) said: “The violence and repression that Abahlali experienced in eKhenana is reminiscent of the 2009 attack on the Kennedy Road settlement which resulted in at least two deaths, numerous injuries and arrests and widespread displacement of Abahlali members.”

SERI said that in the face of “repeated and often unlawful evictions, heavy-handed policing during protests”, Abahlali’s leaders had continued to advocate for their socio-economic rights “at great risk and personal cost”.

“The abuse of the criminal justice system to repress social movements is an indictment on South Africa’s democracy.”

SERI called for the Provincial Commissioner of Police and Minister of Police to urgently investigate the conduct of officers at the Cato Manor police station. The institute also called on the National Prosecuting Authority and the Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of bias and misconduct by officials involved in the court cases brought against Abahlali members.

Mbele did not respond to GroundUp’s questions about allegations against the police. GroundUp contacted ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli via phone calls and messages. No response had been received by the time of publication.

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