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S. Africa: UN expert on human rights defenders spotlights killing of prominent anti-mining activist

'UN Spotlight on Killing of South African Environmental Defender', 15 March 2021

It is almost five months since an environmental activist, Mama Fikile Ntshangase, was gunned down in her home in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province, after raising concerns about a coal mine in the area. No arrests have been made. Mama Fikile had received threats to her life but carried on with what she perceived to be the only way to protect her community’s health and livelihood.

On March 3, the UN expert on human rights defenders used Mama Fikele’s story to begin a new report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that highlights the risks many environmental defenders operate under, and the widespread attempts to silence their voices... other communities affected by mining, some activists confirmed they were afraid to speak out about the impact of mining in their community, especially after Sikhosiphi 'Bazooka' Rhadebe , another prominent environmental rights defender, was killed in Xolobeni in 2016...

Other, less brutal ways to silence the voices of environmental rights defenders are nuisance lawsuits, known as "strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs)... In February, the High Court in Cape Town issued a ruling that strengthens the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court held that a defamation suit brought by an Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), and its local subsidiary against three attorneys, two activists, and a social worker in relation to their statements about its operations is an abuse of legal process...

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