I wish I could die: Heartbreak after land activist gunned down
Widow left in despair by assassination of a man who made many enemies while fighting for shack dwellers' rights
For Phumzile Mkhize – whose land rights activist husband S’fiso Ngcobo was gunned down just metres from his home on Tuesday night – the prospect of life without him is too much to bear.
“I wish I could die,” she said, as she wept at her home in the settlement of eKukhayeni near Mariannhill, west of Durban, on Wednesday.
Ngcobo, the local chair of the Abahlali baseMjondolo shack dwellers’ movement, had left his family to buy cool drink and never returned.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen now; he was the one who put food on the table. I am weak, I don't know what's going to happen when the sun rises and sets tomorrow,” Mkhize said.
Ngcobo had been shot several times, and was rushed to hospital where he later died.“They shot him five times … when I heard him cry I tried to switch the lights off outside and when I got to him it was all over. There was blood on the floor,” his wife said.
She added that his work with housing rights and land occupation had put a target on his back, placing him at odds with political and city officials.
He was the chair of Abahlali baseMjondolo which found him at odds with city officials and the municipality unit tasked to halt land invasions. The organisation, furthermore, is a vocal critic of the ANC government.
“There was a time where I asked him to resign and he said you can’t escape death, everyone one will eventually die,” she added.
Abahlali baseMjondolo spokesperson Sbu Zikode said that Ngcobo, like many other activists, had been the recipient of death threats in the weeks before his death.
“These threats are from councillors who are meant to serve these communities,” he said.
“Three men approached him last night and there was no argument or provocation … they asked for nothing … they simply shot him many times.”
He said Ngcobo had made enemies because of his drive to help people occupy land.“When this community occupied this land, the municipality opposed this and continues to violate a court order that protects those who have built their homes here,” he said, calling on the police to probe those who had a vested interest in Ngcobo’s demise.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele confirmed that their murder investigation was ongoing but no arrests had been made.
Abahlali baseMjondolo represents thousands of shack dwellers across the country, and orchestrated a successful campaign to boycott local government elections in 2006.
The movement serves to halt evictions and the demolishing of shacks in informal settlements, and champions access to basic services and schooling for shack dwellers.
In 2017 the Durban High Court granted an interim interdict in favour of Abahlali which restrains the city from demolishing, burning, removing or otherwise destroying and disposing of housing structures or threatening to do so. Those whose homes were destroyed have been given the right to rebuild them.
The organisation approached the courts after the eviction of 241 families from settlements across Durban sparked violent clashes with authorities.