Bishop Rubin Phillip, a partisan of liberation theology and at one point the deputy to Steve Biko in the Black Consciousness student organisation remains committed to the self-organisation of the oppressed. He has just released a statement of solidarity with the eKhenana Commune, a land occupation organised by Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, that has faced sustained state violent, and now a series of arrests on trumped up charges. The Commune includes the Frantz Fanon Political School, which is used for radical education for activists around South Africa.
The repression of the eKhenana settlement must stop now
The eKhenana settlement in Cato Manor, Durban, is an inspiring model of what can be achieved by democratic forms of self-organisation. It has a farm, a school, a poetry project and more. Its achievements have received significant media coverage in South Africa and sustained interest and solidarity from abroad from organisations such as the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST), the movement of the landless in Brazil which is rooted in the precepts of liberation theology.
I have been privileged to be invited to events at the settlement where I have seen its impressive achievements, and participated in its rich cultural and intellectual life.
The settlement, which is affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo, a globally significant movement of the poor, has been subjected to repeated violent attacks by the state carried out in violation of the Constitution, the law, court orders and the Covid-19 regulations.
In March this year Lindokuhle Mnguni, Landu Tshazi, Ayanda Ngila were arrested, charged with murder, denied bail and held in Westville Prison. A few days later Maphiwe Gasela and Siniko Miya, also residents of the settlement, were also arrested, along with George Bonono, the Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo and a globally respected grassroots organiser. They were charged with conspiracy to murder and taken to Westville Prison. It was immediately clear that the charges were bogus, and in fact farcical.
Bonono and Gasela received bail after two weeks. The other four were held in the prison for six months before the charges against all six activists were withdrawn when the state acknowledged that it had no case. Abahlali baseMjondolo has faced severe repression since its founding in 2005, including state violence, assassinations and the repeated arrest of its members on trumped up criminal charges. In all these years and after hundreds of arrests there has never been a single conviction.
All charges were dropped against Mnguni, Tshazi and Ngila on 29 September. All charges were dropped against Bonono, Gasela and Miya on 4 October. On 8 October Nokuthula Mabaso, Thozama Mazwi and Sindiswa Ngcobo, also residents of the settlements and important protagonists in its achievements, were arrested and charged with assault. They appeared in court on 11 October. Bail was denied and they were sent to Westville Prison.
It is clear that the arrests of these nine people are a continuation of the severe and frequently violent repression to which the settlement has been subject since 2018. It is also clear that, over a period of 16 years, the criminal justice system has been systematically misused to repress a democratic organisation of the poor – an organisation of principle, commitment and courage with which I have been proud to associate myself.
I add my voice to those expressing solidarity with the residents of the eKhenana settlement and Abahlali baseMjondolo. I also add my voice to those respectfully calling for Adv. Shamila Batohi, the Director of National Prosecuting Authority, to mount a swift and effective investigation into the sustained misuse of the criminal justice system to repress grassroots activists in Durban.
Bishop Rubin Phillip, Emeritus – Anglican Church of SA.