/ 5 October 2023

The Last Afternoon in the Garden | Episode 1 – Fighting for water

Mcnally In Partner
The Last Afternoon In The Garden | This is a four-part podcast series produced and presented by Paul McNally for Develop Audio.

I was sitting in Heathrow airport in March 2022, preparing to head back to South Africa, when I read about the death of Ayanda Ngila. I knew about the movement he belonged to, Abahlali baseMjondolo, from a story several years earlier where two ward councilors had been convicted for ordering an assassination of one of their members (I would later discover the victim’s name to be Thuli Ndlovu). I had been to Durban numerous times (usually for either stories or sports races) so the following week I visited the city and the communal garden eKhenana where Ayanda was killed. He was shot in broad daylight while fixing a water pipe in front of women and children and as he went down he yelled for people to take photos of the scene so the truth of his death could be known.


I have since moved back to South Africa permanently and put together the podcast series based on my investigation from here. It is called The Last Afternoon in The Garden and the first episode is out today. There have been arrests, court cases and more violence during the 16 months since I became involved in this case.

During that period straight after Ayanda’s death Durban was wrecked by astounding flooding and Abahlali was out in the townships helping people, collecting donations and antagonising authorities to do more.

The most interesting part of producing this tragic series was how Mbale Kubheka, the attorney working for Abahlali, emerged as the star. She has been working for them under the premise of “watching brief” where someone attends court to largely observe the procedures and flag any inefficiencies of the police, but Mbale has taken on a mammoth task guiding every step of the process, from collecting witness testimonies to arranging private autopsies. It has shown the sheer amount of work needed to prop up a case that should be exclusively handled by the state. And her work does eventually see results.

Ayanda was the deputy chairperson of eKhenana and a committed activist. eKhenana is a prominent land occupation in Durban and has become a space of huge contention in the community. It’s a beautiful green space with a river snaking through it. Abahlali wants the land to remain a socialist stronghold for people – they plant vegetables and keep chickens, selling the products for money that they share equally among the commune’s members. To be honest, it is a situation that makes you feel incredibly positive about Abahlali as an organization and even ignites some hope for the country as a whole. However, there are prominent members in the community who allegedly want the land to be carved up and sold for profit. And meanwhile there are families living on the land with very little security who after Ayanda’s death were too afraid to go out and tend to the crops. They were so fearful that the spinach began to shrivel and die.

Over 130 civil society organisations expressed their outrage over Ngila’s assassination in a widely publicised letter. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) called on the Minister of Police and the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate his assassination. Besides the violence, members of eKhenana have also been routinely arrested. Ayanda, a year before his murder, along with three other leaders of the movement, was arrested and charged with murder. The members were held without bail for six months before the charges were withdrawn due to a lack of evidence. I spoke to the man who was with Ayanda in a different province when the murder he was meant to have committed took place.

My investigation started as looking into an assassination, but became about land ownership in South Africa. I became increasingly aware of what it takes to achieve even small victories against powerful, established forces. And ultimately the story is about the need for activism, particularly in a country like ours.

The Last Afternoon In The Garden was produced by Develop Audio and was done with the support of the Henry Nxumalo Foundation.

This is a four-part podcast series produced and presented by Paul McNally for Develop Audio. Visit their website at https://developaudio.co.za/.

Music was composed by John Bartmann. 

Mixing and Mastering by Danny Booysen.