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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Media Statement: SAHRC Condemns and is Deeply Shocked by the Murder of Human Rights Defender - Fikile Ntshangase

Attention: Editors and Reporters

03 November 2020
                  
The South Human Rights Commission (the SAHRC or the Commission) is deeply shocked and strongly condemns the cold-blooded murder of environmental human rights defender, Fikile Ntshangase (also known as Mam’ Ntshangase) in her home at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba on Thursday, 22 October 2020.
Mam’ Ntshangase was the Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), a community based organisation. She was a vocal opponent of one of South Africa’s largest open coalmines, situated on the border of iMfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Mam’ Ntshangase was involved in legal proceedings opposing the expansion of mining operations in the area, in an effort to protect and enforce the communities’ rights to safe and clean environment.

An application laid by Mam’ Ntshangase, currenty at the Supreme Court of Appeal, alleges that the mining operations of Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd (Tendele), on particular portions of land is illegal as Tendele had not obtained an environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (NEMA) for conducting certain listed activities on the site.

A second case relates to an application to set aside Tendele’s mining rights on the basis that Tendele failed to undertake a process of public participation before the mining licence was issued, and that there was no environmental authorisation and relocation agreement plan of 19 (nineteen) affected families.

Before she was killed, Mam’ Ntshangase is said to have refused to sign the relocation agreement, which certain of her sub-committee members of MCEJO had purportedly signed on behalf of MCEJO. She is also said to have stated her intention to depose to an affidavit, revealing that some members of MCEJO had spoken to her of a payment of R350, 000 in exchange for her signature.

There have been no arrests related to any incidents of violence and intimidation described in court papers filed by MJECO, or for Mam’ Ntshangase’s murder.

The Commission is extremely concerned by the fact that the exercise of fundamental human rights by human rights activists and defenders, especially in mining communities has always put these activists’ lives in danger. The Commission considers the killing of Mam’ Ntshangase as a threat to the creation and existence of a safe and enabling environment for defenders of social, land and environmental justice to freely exercise their rights.

The Commission is further concerned that this matter links to larger, systemic issues in South Africa, a lack of adequate enforcement mechanisms of existing legislative frameworks by the relevant State departments, particularly the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy. Closing the legislative gaps and ensuring the enforcement of legislation negates the need for the community to lobby for accountability and justice and removes conflict within communities. This prevailing tension exists because the mine did not follow due process and diligence, which is illegal, and they have not been held to account by the relevant State departments, as with myriad other cases. This has created the need for community mobilisation and has also left gaps open for bribery and corruption. These scenarios would be avoided if the State ensured that there were no gaps in the legislation, the existing legislation was enforced and that economic activity does not always take precedence over human lives.

As such, the Commission calls on the South African government to create and sustain a safe environement for the exercise of constitutional rights by taking the following steps:

a)    The SAPS must ensure that the investigation into the murder of Mam’ Ntshangase is thorough, fair and swift and that justice is served on those responsible for such a horrendous act.
b)    The State must ensure greater enforcement of existing mining legislation, and penalties and accountability for mining companies that do not comply.
c)    The State must provide greater support to communities that are impacted by human rights violations from the private sector, particularly mining companies.
d)    South Africa’s state security cluster must act upon the allegations of threats against the activists in the area and those opposed to mining activities that will impact negatively on communities’ environmental rights. The lives of human rights defenders and whistle-blowers must be protected as they play a vital role in holding private and public sectors accountable for rights violations.

The Commission will continue to monitor this case and for further interventions, where required.

ENDS

Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission
Gushwell Brooks – Communications Co-ordinator Tel: 082 645 8573 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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