The Unemployed People’s Movement in Makana and Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) is under attack, and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) joins Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) in condemning a low-intensity war that has created fears of more assassinations. It seems to be orchestrated, continuing a well-coordinated strategy of intimidating all those raising the voice of the marginalised poor.
The killing of Black and working-class activists and leaders has been going on unabated in several areas. The leadership and activists of AbM in particular around Durban’s informal settlements and townships have been living in fear as a result of targeted killings.
Recently in Durban, AbM halted illegal municipal evictions in the eKhenana settlement in Cato Crest, using a High Court interdict. Without this, the poor would have been thrown in the streets with no alternative accommodation, despite COVID-19 regulations specifically halting evictions. Immediately after the court victory, eThekwini Municipality official Mr Mkhize, the leader of the city’s notorious Land Invasion Unit, went to eKhenana and fired live ammunition at the community, seriously injuring one person. We recall sadly that Sifiso Ngcobo, Sibonelo Mpeku, Thulile Ndlovu, Nkululeko Gwala, Gqobile Nzuza, Thembinkosi Qumbela, Baby Jaydon and others have been assassinated in Durban.
Other activists have been assassinated in neighbouring provinces like Mpumalanga, where dozens have been killed for exposing acts of corruption, including those implicating Deputy President David Mabuza.
The clock has also to be rewound to the dark days of apartheid killings where leaders and activists alike have been systematically killed by merciless gunmen.
The communities of Xolobeni – Amadiba have suffered from nearly a dozen of these killings, including the 2016 murder of Amadiba Crisis Committee chairperson Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe, for which there have not yet been arrests. For more than a decade, Rhadebe led his community in a battle to resist the takeover of their land by an Australian mining company, MRC. Again, the hand of the ANC government has been seen in this dispute, as witnessed by Minister of Mineral and Energy Gwede Mantashe secretly – during the lockdown – mandating legislation to undo the Amadiba communities 2019 victory in the High Court, which gave them a ‘right to say no!’ to the theft of their land by mining companies.
To add more to our concerns, the dissident ANC councillor Philip Mkhwanazi was ambushed and shot dead on May 25. He was amongst those opposed to the granting of dune mining rights in the St Lucia area. Mkhwanazi operated a black-owned licenced tour operator servicing the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal, a World Heritage Site.
This week we learn that another community activist who is the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) leader in Makhanda, Ayanda Kota, has been threatened and now lives in fear and has had to go into hiding.
Kota’s sin is that the UPM pioneered a High Court application that led to the dissolution of a dysfunctional Makana Local Municipality, which includes Makhanda. The media has covered this intensively in part because of the dominant role there of the University Currently Known as Rhodes. Across the municipality, poor and working-class communities have been left stranded with no water for months and with not even essential services such as the removal of the refuse bags.
This municipality has, like many others, failed to perform its most basic functions as the government. The UPM’s victory has inspired other activists in other parts of the Eastern Cape to pursue the same actions in municipalities such as Enoch Mgijima where services have grounded to a halt.
Obviously these activists will, like #FeesMustFall from 2015-17, be strongest when they link their issues and make national-scale demands on Ministers Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (responsible for municipal government) and Tito Mboweni (responsible for the central-to-local flows of finance). There are many local manifestations of the other governance pandemic South Africa faces: councillor corruption, civil service incapacity, leadership incompetence and officials’ lack of consultation with the masses of municipal residents.
These local problems cannot be solved without a nationally-coordinated uprising of urban social movements, such as contributed to our political liberation during the 1980s when the civic movement emerged to decapacitate municipal apartheid. South African community activists are extremely brave, and their role as the conscience of their municipalities during the last few years is to be lauded, and the martyrs remembered with greatest respect.
These killings do generally not occupy headlines of our mainstream media. They are not different to the premeditated massacre of dozens of mineworkers in Marikana at the behest of the ANC leaders and government, the cold-blooded murder of Andries Tatane of Ficksburg, the cruel killing of four residents of Mothotlung just west of Pretoria and the recent killing of a dozen black citizens by security forces enforcing the lockdown, including Collins Khosa of Alexandra who was beaten to death by the South African National Defence Force in his own backyard.
These killings, carried out by the ANC government and its suspected surrogates, should put to shame the ANC’s empty call for South Africans to pledge solidarity with George Floyd and countless other black citizens of the US who are dying at the hands of the racist police.
Here in South Africa, blacks are dying at the hands of the black government which mainly acts in defence of White Monopoly Capital. Unless proven otherwise, we in society fear that government stooges are probably behind the killing of black activists who resist corruption and malgovernance.
Not a single white citizen is in hiding or lives in this sort of fear, that their exercise of hard-won civil and political rights will leave them, like Ayanda Kota, to now dodge assassination.
Hands Off Ayanda Kota! Hands Off the Unemployed People’s Movement! Hands Off Abahlali basemjondolo! Hands Off the Communities of Xolobeni! Hands Off SAFTU!