OPINION | They have blood on their hands

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OPINION:



“Xolobeni has come to KwaZulu-Natal.” These were the words of a community leader in the mining affected Mtubatuba area when he called to advise that grandmother Fikile Ntshangase had been gunned down in her home at Ophondweni.

Ntshangase was vice chairperson of one of seven sub-committees of the Mfolosi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) for Ophondweni and neighbouring areas, and a powerful voice in opposing the expansion of mining by the Tendele Coal Mine, which will displace rural farmers from their homes.

The MCEJO, which represents thousands of subsistence farmers in the broader area affected by the mine, is an applicant in two court cases challenging the expansion of the mine.

Ntshangase’s assassination follows a stepped-up campaign by the mining company and the KZN government since February to persuade applicants to withdraw the court challenge and for those most affected by the expansion, including those in the Ophondweni area, to accept the compensation the mine is offering.

All those refusing to sign their properties over to Tendele Mining have received death threats.
Mary de Haas

During the past few months several MCEJO members have been offered R300 000 by the mine to withdraw the cases. Some have been seduced by this offer and their membership of MCEJO has been suspended. All those refusing to sign their properties over to Tendele Mining have received death threats, some linked to local traditional leadership. One survived a drive-by shooting, and one applicant was attacked at home.

The threat has been ever-present, with suspicious vehicles seen in the area at night, and although the local police station has deployed patrols, the nature of the deep rural area has rendered comprehensive protection of residents difficult. Locals have also devised their own community watch strategies.

With the Supreme Court of Appeal case due to have a virtual hearing on November 3, the pro-mining campaign was stepped up in the past week. On October 15, former MCEJO members who are now colluding with the mine were among those who disrupted a meeting the organisation was having with its legal team and one leader was assaulted. A case is being opened. This leader, who works in another area, has been warned that his life will be in danger if he visits his family home.

On October 19, Ntshangase, who was widowed early this year, and was staying in Ophondweni with her toddler grandson, reported that her dogs were barking, suggesting that there were intruders in the vicinity. She is described as being a very strong, powerful voice against capitulating to the demands of the mining company.

One of her associates described her as a leader in the Somkhele/Mpukunyoni committee, who “exemplified honesty, integrity and the courage to speak her mind … she cared about what she believed was right”. Those qualities probably cost her her life.
Mary de Haas

One of her close associates described her as a leader in the Somkhele/Mpukunyoni committee, working tirelessly for the community, who “exemplified honesty, integrity and the courage to speak her mind … she did not care about being liked, but cared about what she believed was right”. Those qualities probably cost her her life.

The strategies used by the mining company in this area are typical of those found in all areas in which these companies operate, which involve dangling incentives to impoverished residents with the consequence of stirring deep community divisions, invariably leading to violence and deaths. In rural areas which are difficult to police it takes great determination and courage to counter these strategies, and Ntshangase exemplified the type of leadership which promotes community solidarity and resistance.

There are other leaders of this calibre in the MCEJO and, if anything, the assassination of Ntshangase has renewed their determination to step up the fight against exploitation by the mine.

What is truly disgraceful is that the mine is being supported by the KZN government.

In June and July the Department of Community Safety and Liaison sent a staff member, apparently from its Civilian Secretariat arm (conspicuous in its absence when the threat of violence looms) to persuade community members to negotiate with the mine. Since then, after MCEJO members thought it proper to approach the office of the Ingonyama (King Goodwill Zwelithini) about their struggle they have come under even further pressure via the Office of the Premier and Cogta. This is the same government that claims it needs to expropriate land without compensation to redress the land imbalance.

Perhaps these hypocrites should ask themselves whether, with the assassination of Ntshangase, they have blood on their hands.

Mary de Haas.
Mary de Haas.
Xolobeni Mine
The Xolobeni mine is a proposed titanium mine located on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cap. The proposed mine has reserves amounting to 348,7 million tons of ore grading five percent titanium. Global mining and development company Mineral Sands Resources wants to mine the area. Several activists who were against the mine have been killed.

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