No justice for South Africa’s murdered activists

This weekend hundreds of international supporters will gather to protest the assassinations of South African housing activists.

This weekend hundreds of international supporters will gather to protest the assassinations of South African housing activists

This weekend hundreds of international supporters will gather in London, New York and Budapest to demonstrate against the killing of housing activists in South Africa.

During the past 18 months, three housing activists from the shack dweller movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, a long standing partner of the British anti-poverty charity War on Want, have been assassinated.

To date not a single person has been held responsible for any of these deaths.

In September this year, Thuli Ndlovu became the third Abahlali baseMjondolo campaigner to have been killed. She was shot seven times at her home in Kwazulu Natal province, with her family and community present.

Abahlali baseMjondolo – the name means people living in shacks – was established in 2005 to promote shack dwellers’ rights in and around Durban. The movement, comprising tens of thousands of people from over 50 shack settlements across Durban, has organised protests against forced evictions and demanded improved social services.

Recently, activists have been highlighting the corruption of local councillors in housing development. It is believed this was the reason for Ndlovu’s murder.

Just under 12 months earlier, 17-year-old Nqobile Zuzua, an Abahlali baseMjondolo activist, was shot in the back at a protest against evictions in Durban’s Cato Crest informal settlement.

Nkululeko Gwala, a fellow activist for Abahlali baseMjondolo, was killed last year in Cato Crest. His murder prompted the movement’s president, S’bu Zikode, to call for an urgent probe into the assassination of activists.

But so far no state investigations have followed. No one has been arrested and brought to justice for any of these murders. Abahlali baseMjondolo campaigners are under constant threat of violence. Many have gone into hiding, fearing for their lives, including chairperson Ndabo Mzimela.

The killing of activists has sparked global condemnation. At a recent conference on the Right to the City in the Brazilian city Sao Paulo, denunciation of violence and abuses committed against Abahlali baseMjondolo leaders and members came from 26 countries – representatives of social movements, international and not-for-profit organisations, and national and local authorities, besides policy makers, professionals, academics and researchers.

A signed letter of solidarity was sent to the South African government. People who have consultative status with the United Nations Human Right Office are in the process of writing a letter to the UN and the South African government.

The US-based Poverty Initiative and Picture the Homeless, as well as the Hungarian community organisation The City is for All, have organised protests outside the South African embassies in New York and Budapest tomorrow.

In London, our charity, together with the Abahlali baseMjondolo UK Collective, have initiated a series of solidarity actions, including a petition and a letter to the high commissioner of South Africa that call for the right of people to engage in activism that is free of repression, a formal inquiry into the murders, and peaceful dialogue between housing activists and local, national and provincial authorities.

The signed petition will be handed in at South Africa House in London, after tomorrow’s protest which will take place there from 2pm. Abahlali president Zikode said the global response has been ‘positive and moving’ and that the movement was ‘humbled by [these] moves’.

Saranel Benjamin is the senior programmes officer at War on Want. She has worked for over 20 years with trade unions, social movements and the informal economy in sub-Saharan Africa

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