Ntshangase's daughter Malungelo Kakaza tells Rachel Humphreys that her mother had been involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele, close to Hluhluwe–Imfolozi park, the oldest nature reserve in Africa. She campaigned as part of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation.
The company has said any link to the death of Ntshangase is completely unfounded and called it a "senseless killing'. Kirsten Youens, Ntshangase's lawyer, tells Humphreys that she is continuing to fight the expansion of the mine.
Figures released this week by Global Witness show that 227 people were killed in 2020 while trying to protect forests, rivers and other ecosystems that their livelihoods depended upon.
The Guardian's global environment editor, Jonathan Watts, tells Rachel Humphreys that as world leaders prepare to head to Glasgow in November for the Cop26 climate change conference, the human rights of environmental activists must be firmly on the agenda...
Fikile Ntshangase was a South African environmental activist. She was a leading member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation , which advocates and is taking legal action against the proposed expansion of an open-cast coal mine operated by Tendele Coal Mining Ltd, near Somkhele, situated near Hluhluwe–iMfolozi park, the oldest nature reserve in Africa. Ntshangase was shot and killed by three gunmen in her home on 22. October, 2020. Environmental Activism
Ntshangase was opposed in a legal dispute to the expansion of an opencast coal mine operated by Tendele Coal Mining near Somkhele, in the KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa, near her home in Ophondweni. She was a leading member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, MCEJO, which has fought expansion of the mine near the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, the oldest nature reserve in Africa, since 2017.
Rising tensions and murder
The local community had been split regarding the mine's expansion, leading to rising tensions. Some had been campaigning to preserve their rural livelihoods and the environment, but other community members needed work from the mine and supported expansion. In April of 2020, 19 bullets were shot at the home of another anti-mining activist, Tholakele Mthethwa. The community has traditionally depended on herding and agriculture, but the Tendele coal mine and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park are currently the biggest employers.
Ntshangase had reportedly declined to sign an agreement with Tendele Coal Mining Ltd to withdraw court cases against the company, refusing the company's bribe. She reportedly said, "I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people."
Locals near the mine had been subject to intimidation and threats of violence in the months prior to Ntshangase's murder. Families who refused to be relocate from their ancestral lands were reportedly shot at. At around 6:30pm on 22 October 2020, according to local police, three men entered Ntshangase's home in Ophondweni, KwaZulu-Natal and shot her dead a few meters away from her thirteen-year-old grandson and two of his friends . She was 63 years old and had been cutting onions for dinner at the time.
Ntshangase's death was part of a rising trend of murdered environmental activists, as a record number were killed around the world in both 2019 and 2020, according to Global Witness reports.
Ntshangase's death has been condemned as murder by multiple environmental and humanitarian organizations. For example, on October 27, 2020, environmental organization Groundwork sent a letter to various South African authorities requesting an immediate investigation into her death, which was supported by international network of environmental organizations Friends of the Earth. The Human Rights Watch has written a similar article.