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Why the murder of a KZN environmental activist is worrying for the SAHRC

Fikile Ntshangase, 63, was gunned down in her home earlier this month.

  • The SAHRC is concerned no one has been arrested for the murder of an environmentalist in KZN. 
  • Environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase was killed in Ophondweni during a dispute over mining rights.
  • Ntshangase was opposed to extending mining operations, and had refused a relocation offer. 

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has called for action by the country’s security cluster to investigate allegations of threats to environmental activists opposed to the extension of a mine in a part of KwaZulu-Natal.

The commission’s call comes after Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down on 22 October at her home at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba. 

She was the vice-chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) and was among a group of people opposed to an open mine on the border of the iMfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal. 

She was part of a group lobbying for the protection of communities’ rights to a safe and clean environment, and opposed to the extension of Somkhele mine.

She was shot dead while residents on the Ingonyama Trust Board-owned land, on which the mine is built, were being offered a settlement to move to make way for an expansion. 

Miningmx reported that the expansion areas are situated away from the company Tendele’s current operations, the nearest pit of which is just 500 metres from the iMfolozi river, itself 4.7 kilometres from the confluence of the White iMfolozi and the Black iMfolozi.

It reported that some activists said the compensation situation had “turned the community against itself”.

Jobs are also reportedly on the line if the mine closes. 

KwaZulu-Natal police are investigating Ntshangase’s murder and Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said there had been no arrests.

In a letter to the Daily Maverick, Tendele Mining stated the mine is by far the largest source of economic development in the area and the company believes its survival and expansion are supported by many others.

READ | OPINION | They have blood on their hands

Jan du Preez, Tendele Mining CEO, condemned the intimidation and violence, and hoped that a resolution could be mediated.

The mine explained in the letter that negotiation since June 2017 resulted in 128 households accepting their offers based on the valuations of structures.

It said the minimum compensation is R400 000 per householder, which includes homes plus various other considerations. The average compensation is R750 000 per householder to move to land in the Mpukunyoni area.  

The SAHRC said Ntshangase had also filed an application at the Supreme Court of Appeal, challenging the legality of Tendele Coal Mining’s activities on a particular portion of land and the legality of its environmental authorisation. 

A second case relates to an application to set aside Tendele’s mining rights on the basis that the company allegedly failed to do the required public participation before the mining licence was issued. 

The SAHRC said, before she was killed, Ntshangase had refused to sign the relocation agreement, which some of her sub-committee members had purportedly signed on behalf of the MCEJO. 

The SAHRC said she had also been intending to depose an affidavit, alleging a proposed payment of R350 000 in exchange for her signature. 

The institution said: 

The commission is extremely concerned by the fact that the exercise of fundamental human rights by human rights activists and defenders, especially in mining communities, has always put these activists’ lives in danger.

“The commission considers the killing of Mam’ Ntshangase as a threat to the creation and existence of a safe and enabling environment for defenders of social, land and environmental justice to freely exercise their rights,” said the SAHRC.

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