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4 Oct 2021

Malungelo Xhakaza for Global Witness

S. Africa: Mama Ntshangase's daughter speaks about her mum's murder and her anti-mining campaigns against Somkhele mine; incl. co. comments

"My Mother’s Struggle Lives On", 16 September 2021

For years, my mum Fikile Ntshangase – Mama Ntshangase to me, and to so many others – was a leading force in the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation’s campaign against the Tendele Coal Mine, which borders Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Africa’s oldest nature reserve. It also borders the community of Somkhele... When Tendele applied to extend its open cast operations, to gobble up yet more community land, my mum became the mine’s worst nightmare. She organised, she campaigned, she educated people about their rights. Many in the path of the extension agreed to leave. But not my mum. She stood firm, rejecting pay-outs, even joining a legal action against the mine.

... Ultimately, I believe that’s what cost my mother’s life. One Thursday evening last October, my son Buyile was spending time at his grandmother’s property, playing with the dogs in the yard. Three unknown men arrived, stopping to check with Buyile whether his grandmother was in. She was. They shot her dead in her living room.

... Since my mother’s death, things haven’t been going well. South Africa’s Supreme Court recently ruled in favour of the mine. To this day no arrests have been made in the investigation into my mother’s murder. There has been no accountability. It seems to me that someone wants this mine expansion and the extraction to go ahead, no matter the cost...

If I could say one thing all those concerned, it would be this: it’s not worth it. Whatever money you’re getting from the land, it’s not worth families being torn apart, it’s not worth the blood and tears. Come to the table and listen. You’re going to need to, because when Fikile gave her life for her people, she kickstarted a movement of people who will stand up for what’s right. Her struggle lives on.

Petmin Limited which owns the Somkhele mine through its subsidiary Tendele Coal Mining Ltd., acknowledges community tensions may have been a factor in Fikile's death. It ‘strongly condemns any form of violence or intimidation’ and has offered full co-operation to the police to ensure that the culprits face the full extent of the law.

Petmin Limited have said that investigations by independent third parties found reported house cracks to be due to poor workmanship rather than blasting; and that reports of respiratory illnesses were unfounded. They state that the mine conforms to legal standards regarding dust in the area.