How hitmen slay SA’s “agents of justice”: Government urged to “Defend the Defenders”

Whistleblowers are “agents of justice”, but in South Africa, they are more likely to be persecuted and assassinated than honoured and protected. Now civil society has had enough: 27 international and local civil society groups have joined forces to demand that the South African government protects its “Human Rights Defenders”. Today (19 October) the Human Right Defenders (HRD) Gathering hands over its memorandum to government. One of those organisations is groundWork whose Robby Mokgalaka tells BizNews that just one grass roots organisation has lost about 25 members, “shot and killed in execution style”. Another activist was killed in cold blood in her own house by five men in front of a 13-year old nephew. Yet another was killed by two men impersonating police officers “in his own house in front of his seven-year-old”. He speaks of an entire community living in fear because they do not know if the hitmen live among them.  “…they have eyes and ears…friends. So the moment one person…speaks out and says I want to reveal or I want to tell who actually did what, that person might disappear.”Chris Steyn

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.


Watch here

Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:42 – Robby Mokgalaka on how many civil society organisations have now joined forces to demand protection from government for whistleblowers
  • 01:44 – The names of the organisations
  • 02:23 – On drawing up a memorandum for government and what does it say
  • 03:41 – Why do you think government has been so slow to come to the aid of whistleblowers
  • 05:14 – The worst cases of human rights defenders being persecuted
  • 08:24 – On people who want to come forward but are too scared out of fear
  • 09:22 – Any engagement from government as group apart from the memorandum
  • 11:59 – Conclusions

Listen here


Highlights from the Interview

Whistleblowers are “agents of justice”, but in South Africa, they are more likely to be persecuted and assassinated than honoured and protected.

But now civil society has had enough: 27 international and local civil society groups have joined forces to urge the South African government to protect its “Human Rights Defenders”.

Today (19 October) the Human Right Defenders (HRD) Gathering handed over a memorandum demanding that the government honour its commitment to do so.

Robby Mokgalaka of groundWork tells BizNews that the memorandum calls on the government to develop special laws to recognise and protect human rights defenders; to create an awareness campaign to discourage the killings of human rights defenders; and to immediately arrest their killers.

Read more: UNDICTATED: Summers’s challenge exposed by Pick n Pay’s “truly awful” results, shares drop 14%

Listing some of the assassinations of “agents of justice”, Mokgalaka says just one grassroots organisation – formed in 2009 – have lost about 25 members, “shot and killed in execution style”…

Meanwhile, only three of them have seen justice. “So you can imagine how many people are left out there lingering and not being arrested and maybe planning to do even more damage within the society.”

He goes on to describe the murder of an activist in KZN who “was killed in her own house by five men in front of a 13-year old nephew…in cold blood”. 

Yet another activist was killed “by two men…who were impersonating…police officers in his own house in front of his seven-year-old”. 

Mokgalaka says these cases are “not just happening in isolation like someone has killed someone in the bush or being run over, but it’s happening in their own houses, where they’re supposed to be feeling safe”. 

“And now it’s leaving a lot of emotional traumas to those family members that are left behind.

“And so some of them are breadwinners … .The world needs to know that it’s not about one person dying, but it’s about affecting the entire family members on the ground.”

He says in most of these cases the hitman and hitmen are members of the society on the ground. 

Read more: Killed by Hamas: Special-needs Israeli girl (12) and her grandmother (80) found dead…

“So they have eyes and ears, you know, friends. So the moment one person…speaks out and says, I want to reveal or I want to tell who actually did what, that person might disappear. 

“So people are fearing for their lives. Even if they know, they cannot just come out and speak because they don’t know who they need to avoid or protect themselves against…it is just a ghost out there. 

“So I think there are people who want to talk, who know what has happened and who committed a crime or killed those people, but they can’t just easily come out. That’s the problem.”

Mokgalaka says the government needs to come closer to the people on the ground. 

“And the government needs to make sure that those people that are affected, there’s a follow-up in those families as well…to see what kind of impact they are having that are left in those families. 

“So there’s a whole lot of layers that need to be attended to, and by different parties, stakeholders, but the government takes a lead in this because they have a constitutional obligation to protect its own citizens. So everyone else that comes on board is just an assistant and that assistant is the human that defenders – us and they need to be protected.”

Read also:

Visited 2,492 times, 3 visit(s) today