Sikosiphi Bazooka Radebe
Who stood up for environmental justice
1965 – 2016
Bazooka Radebe was a dedicated environmental and indigenous rights activist who spent years opposing two major developments in the area of Xolobeni on the Wild Coast.
Bazooka Radebe played many roles during his lifetime. As a child his moves on the soccer pitch earned him the nickname of ‘Bazooka’. Later in life he started a football team for unemployed youth. He was also a former miner, an entrepreneur and one of the leaders of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC).
It was in this leadership role that Radebe became well known as an environmental activist.
For years before his death he worked to oppose irresponsible developments – in particular mining to extract heavy metals from pristine local sand dunes – near his home, an area well known for its untouched natural beauty.
According to a 2011 media interview, Radebe started opposing the idea of mining in the area in 2006, after the mining company took him and other community members to see mining operations in Richards Bay.
“That’s when I told them if that’s what it looks like then it’s not going to work here,” Radebe said. “I expected an underground mine like Johannesburg, I did not think of something open to take the land out. I asked where our cattle are going to graze and people stay. We were told not to be concerned about that because we should all be concerned about the money.”
Together with other activists Radebe worked to build local support and momentum, raise awareness of the threats posed by mining and harness legal remedies to block the Australian-based mining company from winning rights to mine in the area. Along the way he was frequently the target of threats and attempts at bribery. Despite efforts to intimidate and silence him, Radebe continued to fight for the environmental rights of his community and to protect the natural area and cultural practices which he loved.
Shortly before he was killed, Radebe told friends and colleagues that his phone was being monitored and his movements tracked. On 22 March 2016, Radebe called a colleague to warn her to take the death threats they were receiving seriously. Later that day two men, dressed as policemen and driving a stolen car, gunned Radebe down in front of his workshop.
Radebe’s killing drew a lot of attention. Civil society organisation in South Africa and around the world called for police to investigate his murder as a politically motivated assassination. But despite the well-documented death threats, police claimed there was not enough evidence to show that Radebe had been killed for his anti-mining stance.
This year, seven years after his death, new evidence came to light showing that the police investigation was deliberately stalled and mishandled.
Meanwhile in Xolobeni, the fight against mining and other forms of exploitative development continues.
To date, no one has been held responsible for Bazooka Radebe’s murder.
Illustration by Sindiso Nyoni.