King Sibiya is an unsung South African hero

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Court to decide how to handle home repossessions
King Sibiya is a South African hero

This is my open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa:

I am a journalist writing for many South African and overseas publications, including Moneyweb, GroundUp, The Citizen, Daily Maverick, and others.

I would like to endorse the nomination of King Sibiya, founder and President of Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation, for the Order of Luthuli award.

I first came to know King Sibiya about six or seven years ago when I was invited to attend a gathering of perhaps 50 to 70 people in the Joburg CBD. All of them had been evicted from their homes by the banks. I wrote about it here:

Link: https://www.groundup.org.za/article/residents-fight-back-against-banks-eviction-tactics_3572/

This was astonishing news to me. How could this possibly happen? Victor Zuma and his wife Beverly were evicted over a R6,000 outstanding debt to FNB. The late Solomon Nhlapo was evicted from the Soweto home he inherited from his mother Mary, even though she had been paying the mortgage bond for more than 20 years.

Nedbank repossessed the property and onsold it to a new buyer for R100. Yes, R100. What possible benefit could there be to Nedbank to sell his home for such a paltry amount? And the evidence suggests Nhlapo was not in arrears.

Link: https://www.groundup.org.za/article/soweto-mans-house-sold-behind-his-back-r100/

But it got worse. Ernest Mashaba’s family was evicted five times from their Katlehong home even though the family insists it was never in default on the mortgage loan. Nedbank repossessed the home and onsold it to a new buyer for R10. That’s right. R10.

A picture began to emerge, that poor, black South Africans were being victimised, not by the apartheid machinery, but by very slick commercial banks and their well-paid lawyers. Behind them, operating through the sheriffs’ offices, criminal syndicates were buying what were in effect stolen properties.

King Sibiya and Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation was the last port of call for these desperate people.

King Sibiya has given his life to representing the poor and the downtrodden. During the apartheid years, he was one of the architects of the Mngomezulu versus City Council of Soweto case in 1986 that prevented tenants being evicted from their homes for non-payment of rent on the grounds that the City Council had not followed the law in setting rentals. The case was won on technical rather than human rights points, but it gave black residents greater security of tenure in their homes.

Fast-forward 30 years and not much has changed, only this time it is the banks doing the evictions.

King Sibiya has been offered bribes to shut his mouth (refusing each one with contempt), had his life threatened, and came within seconds of being rubbed out by a hit team sent from Kwazulu-Natal to eliminate him. When he explained what it was he does, the hit-men left him alone.

Most importantly, he has achieved victory for the people who count on him for support. In a landmark case heard in 2018 in the Johannesburg High Court, the judges ruled that homes cannot be sold at auction without a reserve price – something for which Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation had campaigned for years. The effect of this is to prevent people like Ernest Mashaba and Solomon Nhlapo being evicted and having their homes sold at auction for as little as R10.

Link: http://www.writersroom.co.za/banks-slapped-down-over-home-repossessions-in-joburg-court/

But a bigger battle lies ahead: in February 2020, Lungelo Lethu and hundreds of its members filed a roughly R60 billion class action suit in the Johannesburg High Court claiming damages from the major banks for foreclosing and then selling their properties for a fraction of their market value.

Link: http://www.writersroom.co.za/banks-hit-with-class-action-suit-over-unlawful-home-foreclosures/

The basis of this claim is that tens of thousands of South Africans have lost their homes through foreclosure since the Constitution came into effect in 1994 – in violation of their rights to property, dignity and fair administrative justice.

King Sibiya is an unsung South African hero. He is motivated neither by money nor fame. He performs his work night and day for those with no place else to turn. And he does this for crumbs – without support from government or major donors. If those he has helped can afford a R10 donation, that’s how Lungelo Lethu survives. If any organisation deserves funding from Treasury, this is it. What it has achieved – saving the homes of hundreds if not thousands of people from unfair dispossession – with such meagre resources, is beyond remarkable.

With Sibiya’s Standard 5 education, he can cite chapter and verse of laws and leave judges and lawyers astounded. He can match them clause for clause.

Never, in my opinion, has there been a man more deserving of this great award.

Ciaran Ryan

The Writer's Room is a curated by Ciaran Ryan, who has written on South African affairs for Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, Financial Mail, Finweek, Noseweek, The Daily Telegraph, Forbes, USA Today, Acts Online and Lewrockwell.com, among others. In between he manages a gold mining operation in Ghana, and previously worked in Congo. Most of his time is spent in the lovely city of Joburg.