Friends of the Earth International condemns the killing of Mama Fikile Ntshangase, shot in her home in Mtubatuba, KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. Alongside Friends of the Earth Africa and groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa, we stand in solidarity with the Somkhele community and Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), in their fight against the expansion of the Tendele coal mine and in defence of human rights.

Mama Fikile was part of the Somkhele community, living near the Tendele coal mine, owned by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd, a subsidiary of Petmin. As Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), she was vocal in her concerns about the coal mine’s operations. It is reported that she was unwilling to sign an agreement with the company to withdraw court cases relating to their existing operations and proposed expansion plans, which would displace 21 families from their ancestral land. When refusing the bribe offered by the company, she reportedly said: “I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.” On the evening of Thursday, 22 October 2020, Mama Fikile was shot dead in her home by four gunmen.

Human rights abuses against environmental and political activists and defenders of territories and peoples’ rights are increasing across Africa. As people suffer the health impacts and restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, transnational corporations have continued to expand their mining, oil and gas activities across the continent. They fail to take in to account the demands and rights of local communities, who in turn endure forced evictions, restricted access to their lands, killings, and worsening climate change impacts, a direct consequence of fossil fuel exploitation. States and governments that are supposed to protect their peoples are increasingly captured by the influence of corporations, allowing the peoples who fight to defend their rights and their territories from extractive projects to face intimidation, killings, kidnappings and arrests. As transnational corporations also consistently act to weaken legislation and its implementation at national level, people struggle to access justice through domestic judicial systems, and corporate impunity prevails.

On 27 October 2020, groundWork sent a letter, which we support, to various authorities in South Africa, requesting a speedy and urgent investigation in to Mama Fikile’s murder, in order to bring those responsible to justice. We support this letter. Furthermore, we call on Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa, as well as the Minister of Police, the KwaZulu Natal Provincial Commissioner, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police, the National SAPS Commissioner, and the Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, to ensure that law enforcement authorities investigate – impartially, promptly, and thoroughly- any and every attack or harassment of community rights defenders. We call for a plan to address the failure to adequately investigate such cases. We denounce the criminalisation and abuse of those who exercise their right to freedom of expression, assembly and protest. We demand an binding instrument to oblige States to regulate transnational corporations and other business enterprises, bringing an end to the impunity of corporations and the intellectual authors of such crimes. 

We stand in solidarity with Mama Fikile’s family and with the entire community of Somkhele and the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO). Her struggle is an inspiration to us and we will not forget her commitment to her community and to achieving social and environmental justice. 

More information:

Interview with Robby Mokgalaka from groundWork on the Real World Radio: “South African organisations urge government to investigate murder of anti-mining activist.”

‘Murder of Somkhele Environmental Activist Fikile Ntshangase’, groundWork Press release, October 2020.

groundWork’s letter to the South African President: ‘Request for speedy and urgent investigation to arrest and put on trial those responsible for the murder of Mama Fikile Ntshangase’, October 2020.

Centre for Environmental Rights’ Report: “‘We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities”, April 2019