On Thursday 22nd October, Fikile Ntshangase a woman leader in her mid-60s in Somkhele, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa was gunned down in her house in front of her grandchild. MamFikile was a stalwart in the fight to stop the Tendele Coal mine, which started its operations in 2006, and has had dire water and pollution impacts which are impairing health and livelihoods in her community.
Meetings, local actions on the mine, and legal action has barely shifted the recalcitrant mine and its management. In 2018, Tendele announced that it would be expanding its operations to encompass another 22 000 hectares (54 363 acres), and which has been the subject of an ongoing court case and persistent resistance by community members.
She was the deputy chairperson of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) whose key leaders have been harassed and threatened over the last years by actors close to the mining company – traditional leaders, local government councilors, workers, and others with a vested interest in the mine.
In early 2018, Bongani Pearce, a then leader of MCEJO, was the subject of an arson attack on his home, and his cat was killed, and in October of this year there was an attempted assassination of Mrs Tholakele Mthetwa.
The mine and its supporters have also employed bribery to obtain support for the mine expansion, with various MCEJO leaders having been offered a bribe of between R300-350 000 000 (USD 19 600- just under USD 23 000) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mine which aims to secure support for withdrawing the court case opposing the mine’s expansion.
Mam Fikile was principled and courageous – her spirit will live on the Somkhele community as they continue their fight
for justice and reparation for the many damages they, and women especially, carry.