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There is one question on people’s lips and that is whether an activist Vusi Mlaba was killed to silence him. This speculation comes after ongoing rivalry between Mlaba and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
Mlaba was a husband, father and community leader who fought against corruption and poor service delivery specifically in his hometown of Enzenzeleni Warden in the Free State. For years, the community experienced constant blocked toilets, lack of electricity, contaminated water and sometimes they would go for days without water. Mlaba battled for his community to have access to better services and resources.
Sam Radebe, National Chairperson of the Freedom of Expression Network (FXN) is of the opinion that Mlaba’s desire to cease corruption within the local municipal structures might have made him a target. “I have known Vusi Mlaba for so many years. He played an important role in his community of Enzenzeleni, Warden trying to fight corruption.
He used to stand up for people who were promised Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses but didn’t receive them due to corrupt officials in the system. There is a high possibility that his leadership to expose poor service delivery and corruption made him a target. If we put pieces together there are suspicions but we cannot give details because the matter is still under investigation,” Radebe said.
In 2014, Mlaba was arrested and spend three months in a local police holding cell for protesting. Shockingly he was the only arrested person amongst hundreds of people who were also part of the protest. Mlaba was quick to point out that Zwane was responsible for this arrest. He believed it was an act of revenge for speaking against Zwane in local community forums.
There are speculations that Mlaba was offered a bribe of R70,000 by Zwane three months before he was shot dead on 29 April 2016. It is alleged that he was killed to silence him after he refused to take the bribe. He was shot 12 times and this incident inflicted fear to the community of Enzenzeleni Warden. The Freedom of Expression Law Clinic is assisting the community on the follow up of the investigation and it helps them ease the pain and informed about the case.
Sheniece Linderboom, Head of Law Clinic said “We are assisting in terms of following up on the case and ensuring Vusi Mlaba family gets closure. I have been informed that members of the community living in fear after this incident and as a result many people who might have information are reluctant to share it.”
The community of Enzenzeleni, Warden in the Free State is angered by empty promises from the provincial premier, Mr Ace Magashule. The community and members of the Freedom of Expression Network expressed their grievances and demands concerning poor service delivery through a peaceful march to the local municipal offices on 2 December 2016. Their grievances include blocked toilets, lack of electricity, contaminated water and that sometimes they go days without water. They also demanded justice regarding the murder of one of their leaders, Vusi Mlaba who was shot dead last year.
The memorundum was received by a representative from the premier’s office, Mr Mthembu. Hope was restored when Mthembu promised to give the marchers feedback within 14 days. Unsurprisingly, no response was received by the community of Enzenzeleni, Warden more than a month later. On Monday, 9 January 2017 they marched back to the municipal offices to demand feedback. On their way back and after not receiving any help, seven people including Motlalepula Stofel Mokoena, one of the convener’s of the initial protest, were arrested for allegedly disrupting traffic and subsequently charged with public violence.
This fuelled anger in the residents, the protest was intensified and community members burnt tyres on the road. The police retaliated by firing rubber bullets and tear gas. There were no reported incidents of damage to property, nor injuries. One of the community members Mojalefa Mokoena who is the brother of the convener, is not happy about the existing conditions in his community. Speaking to the FXI, an emotional Mokoena said “The community resorted to the march simply because we want change in the community as we struggle with blocked toilets, we receive contaminated water and some people end up being infected with cholera. Not only that, three days would pass without us receiving any water.”
The seven arrested, two women and five men appeared in court on 10 January 2017 and were all denied bail. The men were sent to Harrismith prison while the women went to Kroonstad prison. They are expected to appear in the Warden Magistrate Court for a bail application on 19 January 2017. The FXI Law Clinic is working with the Right to Protest Project to assist the seven arrested community members. According to the Freedom of Expression Institute Project Officer, Siphiwe Segodi “Ezenzeleni is one of the isolated townships situated in a small town called Warden. In my view, it is common to find authorities undermining such communities’ rights with impunity. One of the contributing factors is that the media, especially mainstream media, pays little attention to such communities and these incidents are not exposed. The Constitution of the country is clear that everyone has the right to express himself or herself in the form of a protest if they do so peacefully and unarmed. Disruption is an inevitable characteristic of protest action, therefore I fail to understand why people must be sent to prison for merely exercising their right in line with the Constitution.”