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Seri temporarily shut doors amid threats to staff

01 August 2022 - 16:21
City of Johannesburg councillor Nkululeko Mbundu has denied instigating the threats allegedly being received by Seri staff members. File photo.
City of Johannesburg councillor Nkululeko Mbundu has denied instigating the threats allegedly being received by Seri staff members. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri) has temporarily shut its offices amid accusations that City of Johannesburg councillor Nkululeko Mbundu is inciting violence against its staff.

Mbundu is the city’s MMC for economic development. 

Threats allegedly started on Wednesday after they settled a case against the removal of 400 informal traders from the De Villiers precinct in the Johannesburg CBD.

According to Seri, the order was executed that afternoon, when Seri’s clients returned to their stalls.

Seri spokesperson Nomzamo Zondo said by Friday morning tweets with pictures of each Seri staffer were being circulated and people were encouraged to “follow us home from the office and take pictures of where we live if they happen to see us; visit and burn down our office, while a screenshot with our address was circulated.

“More worrying, people asked why we should live to see the victory of patriotic South Africans. Someone said ‘abanqakwe’, a reference to kidnapping or lynching. Someone else said that we should be ‘taken to shoot a video at a disused mine in Krugersdorp’ — a reference to the recent rapes,” she said.

Retired Constitutional Court judge and patron of Seri, Zak Yacoob, said during a press briefing on Monday that most of their staff are young lawyers and researchers who could be making more money in other sectors of the economy but have chosen to defend the poor.

“The mayor seemed to be quite unhappy about what had happened. They must decide who really dropped the ball and what steps need to be taken against them,” said Yacoob. 

“As soon we have identified people, we will take necessary steps. Cleaning up the city can mean two things: you send people to pick up dirt or remove people. Law and order is not a one-dimensional thing. The municipality has to be consistent, and it hasn’t been providing people with services.”

He urged people not to act on the threats of violence.

“Mbundu falsely asserted that the city had been interdicted because the case against the city ‘used locals as a front’. In a series of social media posts and in a media interview, Cllr Mbundu claimed, falsely, that SAITF (SA Informal Traders Forum) is ‘pretty much all foreign nationals ... with a front by South Africans’.

“He also suggested that the De Villiers trading precinct will be ‘invaded’ as a result of the order. He implied that SAITF and Seri constitute ‘a syndicate with big vested interests’.”

The organisation said the tweets by Mbundu encouraged a wide range of violence against employees. 

“Xenophobic groups and individuals have acted on Cllr Mbundu’s tweets by circulating pictures of Seri’s staff, together with their cellphone numbers. They have threatened to burn down Seri’s offices, kill the lawyers who represented SAITF, and harm other Seri staff. Seri staff have also received threatening phone calls.

Seri has made it clear to the city and ActionSA, [councillor] Mbunda’s political party, that his false statements have incited these unlawful threats
Seri

“Seri has made it clear to the city and ActionSA, Cllr Mbunda’s political party, that his false statements have incited these unlawful threats. If Cllr Mbundu did not intend to incite those threats, it must be clear to him by now that this is what he has done.

“Yet neither he, nor the city, nor ActionSA has done anything to set the record straight, or to discourage Cllr Mbundu’s followers from repeating or acting on the threats of violence he has incited,” said Seri on Monday. 

Mbundu has denied the allegations, saying he’s been made a scapegoat. 

“I’m not involved in inciting violence. They published their contacts and all I did was share the post. That’s not me searching and randomly sharing their contacts.

“We’re not responsible for what has transpired,” Mbundu said.

Seri says it has reported the threats police.

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