Date: April 8, 2024 Type: Country:

South Africa: Authorities must ensure protection for Abahlali human rights defender following increase in threats

Authorities must ensure that Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) activists are protected following threats made against another of its leaders, before one more human rights defender loses their life, Amnesty International South Africa said. 

Former AbM General Secretary Nomsa Sizani has been facing death threats for the past few weeks. These escalated during the Easter weekend forcing her into hiding. The threats started after she allegedly questioned government officials who were in Ekukhanyeni in Mariannhill, KwaZulu-Natal, to speak to the community about a development. 

The threats against Nomsa Sizani must be seen against the backdrop of a greater pattern of threats and killings of AbM members and leaders. AbM reported 25 of their members as having been killed since the formation of the grassroots movement in 2005, some directly because of their activism.

“It is unacceptable that human rights defenders who are determined to improve the lives of poor communities, and who still do not have access to basic rights, are continuously facing threats for fighting for human rights,” Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said.

“The protection of human rights defenders is paramount to the functioning of any society. The South African police must take these threats seriously and ensure that those responsible for targeting activists face the full force of the justice system. People cannot be left to live in constant fear for their lives simply for exercising their fundamental rights.”

Nomsa Sizani told Amnesty International South Africa that on 18 March at 19:30, she was with her family when she received a phone call from an unknown number threatening her. She said the person on the other side of the line said: “you have a big mouth, if you don’t shut that mouth we will shut it for you”. On 26 March, Nomsa Sizani said she received a text message which said: “We hope that Zikode [referring to AbM president Sibusiso Zikode] and Abahlali will be able to protect you from that big mouth of yours”. She said it was after this that the AbM leadership suggested that she move out of her house and community to a safer place. On Easter Sunday, 31 March, her children said three men arrived at her home asking for her. 

Nomsa Sizani, a single mother, said she and her children are traumatised by what is happening. 

“How do you… in these situations tell your children that their mother is under threat and at any time she could be assassinated. So the feeling I am feeling now, I can’t even express it to anyone,” she said. 

“I was just expressing my feelings, I was just telling the truth, only the truth. I don’t think that if a person speaks the truth they should go to the grave…. I feel my life is in danger, my children’s life too is in danger…”

Amnesty International South Africa is calling on the authorities to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of Nomsa Sizani and all other members of Abahlali who are under threat. 

In March, the South Africa Human Rights Commission announced that an SA Police Service task team in KwaZulu-Natal had been set up to investigate the killings of AbM activists. 

“Amnesty International South Africa welcomes this long overdue move, but we are clear that this task team needs to be efficient, independent and transparent to ensure protection for AbM members. It is time for authorities to show us that they are serious about protecting human right defenders and ensuring that there is justice,” Shenilla Mohamed said. 

“South Africa will be celebrating 30 years since the end of apartheid  this month and still people are being assassinated and murdered for standing up for what they believe in, fighting for basic services, or speaking out against corruption.”

Amnesty International South Africa is reiterating its call for the development of legislation which protects human rights defenders. 

“The state must uphold its obligations under international law to protect human rights defenders and ensure their safety, and we urge all living in South Africa to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders and demand an end to violence and impunity,” Shenilla Mohamed said.

Amnesty International South Africa urges everyone to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders like Nomsa Sizani and to amplify their voices in demanding justice and protection for all who advocate for social justice and equality.


Amnesty International has put its might behind AbM and its General Secretary Thapelo Mohapi, who is in hiding and facing threats because of his activism. Thapelo has dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of people across South Africa, particularly in areas suffering economic hardship and living in informal settlements.

Thapelo Mohapi was one of Amnesty International’s global Write for Rights campaign cases and since the start of the campaign in October 2023, 516,614 people took action globally calling on the police to investigate cases thoroughly, impartially and effectively so that there is justice for AbM members killed, and to provide adequate protection for Thapelo and other AbM members currently under threat.

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Genevieve Quintal, Media and Communications Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0) 64 890 9224;