Mam Fikile Ntshangase
Who did not bow to pressure
1957 – 2020
Fikile Ntshangase was a leading voice in the fight against the expansion of a coal mine near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal.
Fikile Ntshangase lived with her 11-year-old grandson in a house in Ophondweni near Somkhele in northern KwaZulu-Natal, where she was a well-known and well-loved member of her community. Mam Fikile was also a former teacher and the Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO). For many years MCEJO has challenged the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkhele by the Tendele coal mining company.
As one of the leaders of the opposition against the coal mining company, Mam Fikile often spoke out about the dangers of coal mining in the area and the unethical tactics that were being used by the coal mining company. She pointed out that many people suspected the mining company of a campaign aimed at dividing the people of Somkhele and inciting violence.
Mam Fikile also used her profile as an activist to highlight the environmental rights violations caused by the open-cast anthracite mine, pointing out the rising rates of respiratory diseases caused by coal dust, polluted air and soil, dried up water sources and poisoned drinking water.
She once famously held up two bottles of water at a community meeting where Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, was present. Mam Fikile had filled the water bottles from her own tank at home. When she held up the bottles for all to see the coal particles in the water were clearly visible.
Even though Mam Fikile and many other activists in the area experienced threats, intimidation and violence by those who supported the mine, she remained steadfast in her opposition. She worked hard to raise awareness of how mining in the area had not only brought soil, air and water pollution but also social problems. She described how many people in her community suffered due to callous practices by the mining company, such as improper relocations and leaving relocated ancestral graves unmarked.
Shortly before she was murdered, Ntshangase refused to sign an agreement with the mining company, saying: “I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.”
On 22 October 2020 at 18:30, four gunmen arrived at Ntshangase’s house while she was cooking dinner for her family. The gunmen forced themselves into her home and shot her six times. She died on the scene.
To date, no one has been held responsible for her murder.
Illustration by Sindiso Nyoni.