Fikile Ntshangase (known locally as Mam’Ntshangase) was a vocal opponent of plans to extend Somkhele coal mine, one of South Africa’s largest open coal mines, situated on the border of iMfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Park, one of the oldest nature reserves in Africa, located in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
She was a leading member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, (MCEJO), which is currently involved in two legal challenges with Tendele Coal (Pty) Ltd. The first case is challenging all mining activities at Somkhele coal mine until Tendele Coal (Pty) Ltd. comply with all legal and environmental requirements and the second case is attempting to set aside the additional mining rights granted in 2016 which cover more than 222 square kilometres.
Many in the community oppose the mining project, asserting that insufficient public consultation had taken place before securing the mining rights and that their consent was not sought.
On Thursday 22nd October 2020, at approximately 6:30PM local time, four men entered Fikile Ntshangase’s house and shot her several times. At the time of the shooting, her young grandson was also in the house.
At the time of writing, an investigation is underway, but no arrests have been made.
Kirsten Youens, Fikile Ntshangase’s lawyer, said her client was a “courageous activist” against the expansion of the mine. “She was incredibly outspoken about the truth and justice, having no qualms about calling people out who she felt were being devious or untruthful,” Youens said. “She did not compromise her ethics. Ever. As her attorney, I will miss her truth, her fire and courage. She did not deserve to die. We are devastated by her loss.”
Shortly before her death it is alleged that Fikile Ntshangase turned down a bribe of R350,000 intended to get her to withdraw her support for the current legal cases saying, “I cannot sell out my people, and if need be I will die for my people”.
People near the mine have been the focus of threats of violence and intimidation in recent months, according to lawyers representing the communities. Families that have refused to be relocated from their ancestral lands have reportedly been shot at.