Thuli Ndlovu had been threatened for being in the forefront of fighting for the rights of shack dwellers and leading spirited opposition to a controversial housing project. Now her blood has been spilled by a gunman.
Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Between half past six and seven last night, an armed man burst into Thuli Ndlovu’s home in KwaNdengezi, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, while she was watching TV. He shot her seven times and she died on the scene. Ndlovu was the Chairperson in KwaNdengezi of Abahlali Basemjondolo kwaNdengezi, South Africa’s movement of shack dwellers. There were two other people in the house at the time. One was Sphe Madlala, an 18-year-old neighbour. He finished matric last year and did very well in physics and maths. Our movement has been trying to help him to get into university. He had come to the house to help Thuli’s 17-year-old daughter, Sli, with her matric studies in maths and science. Sphe was also shot twice in the stomach but he survived. He underwent surgery at RK Khan Hospital at one this morning and remains in a critical condition. Thuli’s one-year-old son, Freedom, was also in the house at the time of the shooting. He was not physically harmed. Sli was in a separate outside room with her grandmother at the time of the shooting.
An hour before the incident Mduduzi Ngcobo, the local councillor who is known as Nqola, was moving around near Thuli’s home in his black Navara. When she saw Nqola near her house Thuli told her mother that “today we are going to be shot”. She also called one of her comrades in the movement to express her concerns.
Thuli has often been intimidated and threatened by Nqola. The local police always sided with Nqola. But she had a good relationship with an officer in Provincial Crime Intelligence who she thought was more neutral. She would inform him when there were meetings or when she felt unsafe. She was in Cape Town this weekend for the re-launch of the Sweethome Farm branch of our movement. While she was away she received a call from the local Station Commissioner asking her to come to a meeting. This also happened to Ndabo Mzimela from Cato Crest. When Ndabo attended the meeting he was warned to leave the area or face assassination. Thuli only arrived back in KwaNdengezi late on Sunday afternoon so we don’t know if she was able to get in touch with the Commissioner.
KwaNdengezi is like a rural area and people live in their own houses and not in shacks. They have an iNkosi and iziNduna. Land is allocated by the iziNduna and is not paid for. Some people have the land rights papers known as Permission to Occupy papers (PTOs) and other people don’t have papers. But the right to occupy the land is not just a right on paper. It is recognised by all the neighbours and is therefore a real and strong right. After 1994 the land was taken over by the Municipality and the legal authority was shifted from the iNkosi to a councillor.
The problems in KwaNdengezi started in 2010 when Nqola called a meeting to announce that a housing project would be taking place in the area. Before accepting the project the community raised concerns about their families’ graveyards. They said that a housing project should not frustrate people but improve people’s lives. It was agreed that before the project started, another community meeting would be called to discuss how it should be structured. It was also agreed that as this is a community project, it should be driven by the community.
However, no further meeting was called and the project was imposed on people from above. Many attempts were made to meet with the councillor but when meetings were scheduled he did not attend them. After several times of going to his office, the community leaders called the councillor and explained that the agreement had not been kept. He promised to come to the community and listen to the people’s grievances and try to find resolutions. But again he did not do as he promised.
When this housing project started RDP [Reconstruction and Development Programme] houses were just built anywhere and without any discussion or consultation. Some people found that two or three houses were suddenly being built in their yards. Fences were just destroyed and houses were built on their gardens and even next to or over their family graves. There has been no respect for the dead. African people have a high respect for the dead. This is an insult to the people and to their culture. Also the houses are not being built for the people in the area. They are going to people unknown in the area and the councillor is selling them. When people complained about these houses being built in their yards and on their gardens and graves they were told that their houses were shacks and that therefore they had no ownership or say – no rights at all. However, their houses are not shacks. They were built on properly allocated land and are solid structures having as many as five rooms in some cases.
The inkosi in the area, Mr. B. Shozi, denies having signed any documents authorising the Municipality to take over certain portions of land in the name of development. The people in the area have not given their consent to this development. Yet the Municipality has continued to do what it wants without regard to the people living in KwaNdengezi. Nqola has responded to the people’s concerns with serious intimidation including firing live ammunition at people.
People in KwaNdengezi started joining our movement in early June 2012. One of the community members had been following the Shallcross land occupation and approached our movement for solidarity.
From the beginning our members faced serious intimidation in the area. During a protest against corruption on Sunday 27 January 2013 people were threatened at gunpoint by an MK Veteran who is among those believed to have bought a corrupted RDP house. We opened a case of intimidation against this man but it was never investigated and he was never arrested.
Later that afternoon the same MK Veteran and Nqola came with the police and pointed out which protesters they wanted the police to arrest. Four people were arrested. All charges were later dropped due to a lack of any evidence against the four comrades.
On 31 August that year the community had to protest once again against the city's stealing of residents' yards, including their gardens and graves, and the selling of the RDP houses that were being built. Nqola threatened to shoot residents in the broad daylight. A case of intimidation by the local councillor was reported to the police in September 2012 (Case 197/09/2012). But it was never investigated until today just like the case of intimidation by Nigel Gumede that was reported to the police in 2011 after he made an open threat against S'bu Zikode was never investigated.
On the 18 November 2012, 120 people, mainly women, participated in the launch of the new Abahlali baseMjondolo branch in KwaNdengezi. Before the launch there were several meetings. Nqola denied us the use of the hall and tried to close down our meetings. He would be armed and accompanied by armed men. There would be serious threats. Eventually we had the launch outside in a tent.
On 2 March 2013 the Abahlali baseMjondolo Woman’s League had its General Meeting. The KwaNdengezi branch was present and shared their painful story of living under constant threat from their councillor and that they were not even sleeping in their own homes due to threats. The Women’s League took a decision to respond to the situation and on the 6 March 2013 they entered and occupied the Durban City Hall to demand that the serious accusations of intimidation and corruption against Nqola be investigated. They demanded that the City Council take his threats seriously and act to secure the safety of our comrades in KwaNdengezi. The City Council did nothing. They said nothing. Thuli’s blood is on their hands.
On 29 March 2013, which was Good Friday, Dumisane Mdletshe went to the home of a well-known, well-respected and brave leader of our movement in KwaNdengezi. He kicked open the door and entered the home. He had a bush knife. He attacked her grandmother and her uncle and killed them both. They were both members of our movement. He then asked for the comrade who had escaped in the dark.
Mdletshe then went to another home, kwaShozi, which is about two kilometres away. Here he attacked Mr. Shozi who is the father of another well-known, well-respected and brave comrade. Mr Shozi fought back with the help of his sons. They overpowered their attacker and called the police who arrested Mdletshe.
One 19 May 2013 there was another peaceful protest against Nqola's corrupt and undemocratic allocation of houses. Eleven comrades were arrested. Mandisi Shozi went to the police station to try and see his mother and to check that she was okay. Nqola and his izinkabi (hitmen) assaulted him outside the police station. They have not been arrested for this assault. All charges were dropped against the eleven comrades due to a lack of any evidence against them.
On 12 July 2013 an Induna in KwaNdengezi by the name of Mr. Dingisono Ndlovu was arrested by a team of police investigators who identified themselves as coming from the Provincial Task Team. He was detained for two days. When he was released he said that he had been tortured by the police while in custody.
On 22 October 2013 a road blockade was organised in protest at Nqola and his corrupt housing project. Nqola came to the blockade with the police. He was armed and he joined the police assault of the protestors. Thuli Ndlovu, who was then the interim chairperson of our movement in the area, was singled out for deliberate personal intimidation and assault.
That night Nqola arrived at Thuli’s home and started shouting threats and shooting a gun outside her house. She and her family did not sleep that night. The interim committee opened a case of intimidation against Nqola with the local police. They knew that, of course, a case against a councillor will never be investigated but they wanted it to be on the record.
In November 2013 Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, made a report to Jacob Zuma to investigate allegations of irregularities in the list processes for councillors leading up to 2011 local-government elections. This report noted that in Ward 12 in KwaDengezi complaints included allegations that the ward councillor was selling government houses and that “cases of corruption and killing of people in their ward were brought to the police, the police never did anything about the reported cases”. The task team recommended that Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa “facilitate investigations of killings in that ward”. No action was taken in response to their report. Thuli’s blood is also on Mthethwa’s hands.
On 16 September this year our movement met with the Provincial Member of the Executive Council for Housing and members of the ANC, SACP and SANCO structures in Cato Crest. Serious threats were made against us. The focus of this intimidation was on Ndabo Mzimela from Cato Crest. We started to get calls from the media who had been approached by the ANC saying that ‘Durban is under siege from Abahlali baseMjondolo’. There were warnings from within the ANC and the police. We know the signs. We knew that another assassination was coming. But all the signs pointed to Ndabo Mzimela being the one at risk.
On 18 September we had a good meeting with the Ngonyama Trust. They were shocked to hear about what is happening in KwaNdengezi and promised to respond to the issues. This would have been a threat to Nqola and others who are profiting (legally and illegally) from development in the area
Last weekend there was a spontaneous protest in the area against the corrupt allocation of houses. Thuli was not part of this protest.
We had a meeting in KwaNdengezi today. People are really scared and shocked. They don’t see much police presence.
Our movement is shocked but not surprised. We have accepted that some of us will die in this struggle. We are well aware that our leaders have been removed from the housing list and placed on the death lists. Many of us have received threats. We knew that another assassination was coming. The only surprise was that many of us were expecting that it would be Ndabo’s turn. Senior police officers were also aware that another assassination was coming. They have done nothing to give protection to our members.
Our deep condolences go to Thuli’s family, to her mother and her children. We will do all that we can to support them and to make sure that Thuli is buried with all the dignity and honour that she was denied in life. She was a brave and strong woman. She will always be remembered and honoured in our movement.
We are facing a war. The struggle for land and dignity continues.
Lala ngoxolo qhawe, sizohlala sikukhumbula
Sma (Family member ) – 061 346 8087 Ndabo Mzimela (Abahlali baseMjondolo Secretary General) – 079 355 6758 Zandile Nsibande (Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League) - 074 767 5706