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4 Nov 2021

Ylenia Gostoli, TRT World

S. Africa: Activist’s murder remains unresolved a year after her death- daughter vows to continue her legacy and get justice

‘A coal mine, an unsolved murder: a woman’s fight for her mother’s legacy’ 3 November 2021

It was 7:30pm on October 22 last year when 31-year-old Malungelo Xhakaza received a phone call — one she wishes never happened. When she arrived at her mother’s house in Ophondweni, in South Africa’s eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, all she knew was that something terrible had taken place. “I arrived [there] at 8pm and the whole place was filled with policemen and some of my neighbours,” Malungelo recounts of the night her mother, 65-year-old Fikile Ntshangase, was shot dead in her home by three unknown men. A year later, the case remains unsolved, and Malungelo went from living a relatively quiet life in rural South Africa, to fighting battles on two fronts: getting justice for her mother and keeping her legacy alive.

“Mama Ntshangase” as she was known, had been involved in a legal dispute against the expansion of a coal mine operated by Tendele Coal in nearby Somkhele, to the east of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park, Africa’s oldest nature reserve. Ntshangase, a former teacher and chair of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organization (MCEJO), had been vocal in denouncing the impact of the mine on local health, water, and land pollution, as well as damage to local homes. When the company announced it was planning to expand its open-pit mining operations, MCEJO led a legal challenge against the plans, concerned it would harm local residents’ health and livelihoods by polluting air and water supplies. Most are subsistence farmers.

…Kunene agreed community tensions had arisen, but said the company believes they derive “from efforts by a tiny minority of community members taking actions, which threaten the future of the mine.” According to the company, 113 households have signed relocation agreements. However, lawyer Kirsten Youens, who represents community members in the expansion areas where Fikile Ntshangase had been conducting her awareness campaign, explains that Tendele hasn’t consulted all of those that will be affected…Nineteen families approached by the company were still refusing to sign, she added. Litigants in the court case, which is due to be heard in mid-November, want the mining right granted to the company