Mam’ Ntshangase murder: Lives of human rights defenders, whistle-blowers must be protected
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By Gushwell Brooks
We, the South African Human Rights Commission, are deeply shocked about and strongly condemn 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, October 22.
Mam’ Ntshangase was the vice-chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, a community-based organisation. She was a vocal opponent of one of the largest open coal mines on the border of iMfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
We call on the government to ensure that:
– The SAPS’s investigation is thorough, fair and swift.
– Greater enforcement of mining legislation, and penalties and accountability for mining companies that do not comply. Greater support to communities affected by human rights violations from the private sector.
– The state security cluster act on the allegations of threats against the activists opposed to mining activities. The lives of human rights defenders and whistle-blowers must be protected.
Mam’ Ntshangase was involved in legal proceedings opposing the expansion of mining operations in the area, to protect the communities’ rights to safe and clean environment.
An application laid by Mam’ Ntshangase in the Supreme Court of Appeal alleges that the mining operations of Tendele Coal Mining on the land is illegal. It has not obtained environmental authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act.
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 for the relocation of 19 families.
She is said to have refused to sign the relocation agreement and to accept R350 000 in exchange for her signature. There have been no arrests.
We are extremely concerned that human rights activists and defenders’ lives are being put in danger when they exercise their human rights. We consider of Mam’ Ntshangase’s killing a threat to a safe and enabling environment for defenders of social, land and environmental justice.
We are further concerned that the matter links to larger, systemic issue, particularly in the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy. The tension exists because the company did not follow due process. It could be avoided if the state ensured that there were no gaps in the legislation. We will continue to monitor the case.