Assassination unsolved despite pressure by UN

Despite the assassination of KwaZulu-Natal anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase receiving attention from the UN, putting pressure on the South African government to hunt down her killers, the case remains unsolved.

Ntshangasewas killed in October 2020, after three gun-wielding assassins entered her homestead in Ophondweni village in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

She was preparing supper when she was shot and killed in front of her 13-year-old grandson, who was in the company of two school friends.

There were allegations that at the heart of her murder was her staunch opposition to the forceful removal of villagers to make way for the expansion of the Tendele coal mine in Somkhele village.

Billy Mqonqo, a Mtubatuba- based activist and founding member of Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, said they have little hope that the killer will be brought to book “Police took some people for questioning and nothing happened after that. The situation in the area has become more volatile and those who oppose the mine fear for their lives.

“Activists constantly look over their shoulders, fearing hitmen,” Mqondo told Sunday World.

Before the murder of Ntshangase, another anti-mining activist, Tholakele Mthethwa, had a close brush with death when gunmen fired more than 19 shots at her house. She escaped unharmed.

Janice Tooley, the lawyer representing the mining activists under non-profit organisation All Rise, said there had been renewed fears from those opposing the mine’s expansion after the emergence of a hit list.

“The murder of Fikile Ntshangase terrified the community. Recently, death threats were issued to some activists by known people. Their homes were later torched. They had to flee the area. There is now a hit list, which is believed to be circulating targeting people who are opposing the mine’s extension,” she said.

Tendele Coal, owned by Petmin, wants to expand its operations near the border of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. For the mine to go ahead, villagers must consent and sign agreements for their homes and graves to be moved so that the mineral wealth under their ancestral land can be unearthed.

Community members have been pitted against each other, with some accepting monetary compensation while others want to continue with subsistence agriculture. The open-cast coal mine produces and exports metallurgical coal.

The matter has also been a subject of litigation. The Pretoria High Court earlier this month blocked the expansion of the mine. Acting judge Noluntu Bam set aside the granting of the licence and ordered that Minister of Minerals and Energy Gwede Mantashe reopen the appeal process to allow for submissions by environmental organisations.

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