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5 Nov 2020

Katharina Rall, Business Day

S. Africa: Environmental rights activists’ have always faced threats for voicing their concerns against mining says human rights researcher

‘Environmentalists are under threat for defending their rights’ 4 November 2020

While shocking, the killing of environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase is not surprising. Environmental defenders such as Ntshangase have long faced threats for voicing their concerns about mining activity on nearby communities. When, in 2018, I visited Somkhele, a town near a coal mine in KwaZulu-Natal, several community activists told me they had been threatened, physically attacked and their property damaged after speaking out about the health risks of coal mining. Two years later, on October 22, Ntshangase was gunned down in her home. No arrests have been made.

…SA groups have raised concerns that Ntshangase’s killing may have been related to her outspoken advocacy and refusal to withdraw the legal challenges to existing and future mining operations. Tendele Coal Mining, the company operating Somkhele coal mine, told us in 2019 that they were “aware of claims of attacks, yet upon investigation and consultation with police, the information could not be verified/substantiated”. Last week, Tendele condemned what it called a “senseless killing” and called for a prompt investigation, in a joint statement with local leaders.

SA is the world’s seventh-largest coal produecer. The absence of effective government oversight has allowed mining to harm the rights of communities across the country in various ways. It has depleted water supplies, polluted the air, soil and water, destroyed arable land and ecosystems, and often resulted in displacement and inappropriate grave relocation practices. In a scathing report, the SA Human Rights Commission found that “the mining sector is riddled with challenges related to land, housing, water, [and] the environment”…They should not have to endure threats and danger to their very lives for defending their right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live on their ancestral land.