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7 Jan 2021

Lindsay Maasdorp & Thabi Myeni, openDemocracy

S. Africa: Women activists say they are targeted for wanting a sustainable legacy for their children and for the community

‘Threats and murder won’t stop South Africa’s environmental activists’ 3 January 2021

Nonhle Mbuthuma grew up learning how to farm and produce food. Her fondest childhood memories include helping her parents cultivate sweet potatoes and other crops in her village in Xolobeni, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. Today, she is an environmental activist and defender of ancestral land – a position that exposes her to constant threats of violence from those she opposes, and means that she must always have a bodyguard when she leaves her home. “Just the other day, I filed a police report after receiving threatening text messages. I know they are serious, we have lost so many [activists], but I cannot stop because this is our land,’ says an impassioned Mbuthuma.

…Since the mining project was first proposed in 2007, there has been conflict with the company, particularly in the Amadiba community of Xolobeni. Outspoken activists, often women, have been threatened, harassed and even killed. Mbuthuma co-founded a organisation called Amadiba Community Crisis (ACC). In March 2016, the ACC’s chairperson, Sikhosiphi ‘Bhazooka’ Rhadebe, was gunned down in his home, in front of his son, by two men allegedly posing as police officers. “They killed him. He refused to be bullied,” Mbuthuma says. Usually animated, she speaks softly as she recalls the day that she lost her friend and fellow activist. “And now they have killed Mama Ntshangase.”

…Instead of selling the land to mining corporations, Mbuthuma wants the Wild Coast community’s sustainable methods of development to grow. Locals produce their own food, which they sell to neighbouring cities, they fish in the waters off the Wild Coast and they have a booming ecotourism industry that attracts visitors from Latin America, Asia and the Western world. During South Africa's severe coronavirus lockdown, Mbuthuma says the communities of Xolobeni didn't take government food packages, but grew their own food. “Even some people that were pro-mining have become anti-mining because, during lockdown, the land took care of them in ways that the government couldn't.”