Murder of HRDs in South Africa: A calls for South African government to intervene

(Johannesburg 17 May 2022) CIVICUS calls on the South African government to denounce ongoing the killing of human rights defenders in the country and act decisively to identify the perpetrators of such heinous acts against innocent actors. Increasing attacks and killings on human rights defenders, together with the silence of the South African government, have created an environment of fear with a chilling effect on the people around them. Since 2016, about 30 activists who have been victims of such attacks, including murder, forced disappearance, and harassment.

On 5 April 2022 Nokuthula Mabaso, a leader of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, who stood for the rights of residents in informal settlements was assassinated. On 8 March 2022 Ayanda Ngila, a young leader in the Commune who had twice been jailed on ridiculous charges, was assassinated, while Siyabonga Manqele were gunned down on 15 March 2022.

In 2018, a health right activist, Nomawethu Kunene from the West Rand, disappeared from her home and her whereabouts remain unknownc to date. She was privy to the life Health Esidimeni scandal that exposed removal of the mentally ill-patients from the well-functioning state health facility to homes of incompetent NGOs. Reports of extra judicial executions of activists promoting environmental rights increased. In KZN province, a mining activist Fikile Ntshangase was murdered in 2020. In 2016, Mr. Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, was shot dead at his home by unidentified assailants. He was leading a community initiative against Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), an Australian-owned mining company, and its local subsidiary TEM, to access the titanium-rich Xolobeni coastal dunes.

Similarly fatal shooting was committed to a health department senior official, Babita Deokaran at her home in September 2021. Babita was a witness into the Special Investigation Unit contagious multimillion Covid-19 PPE tender. These fatal events continue to put the spotlight on the safety and security of activists in South Africa.

“As violence against and murder of South African activists escalate, the South African government can no longer afford to be indifferent, rather has a responsibility to act now against these inhumane and barbaric acts. There is no more direct attack on civil society space than the killing of human rights defenders. We carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing of all the activists in recent years, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with South African laws and international standards.” said Corlet Letlojane, Executive Director, HURISA.


South Africa has been lauded as a champion for protecting civic space and rights of activists in the continent because of its progressive legal framework. However, the situation has been deteriorating, with activists, human right defenders including LGBTQI+ rights campaigners and individuals continue to live and operate in a hostile environment characterized by hate speech, death threats and killings. The recent spate of violent attacks against and murders of activists reminisces the brutal regimes that the country went through. The South African government should urgently take steps to respect and protect the rights of these community rights defenders.

For more information on civic space violations, visit the South Africa country page on the CIVICUS Monitor.

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