Reactions are pouring in from environmental rights organisations following the death of the vice-chairperson of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), Fikile Ntshangase. She was gunned down at her home on Thursday.

Ntshangase was among those firmly opposing the expansion of mining by the Tendele Coal mine in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. A court case challenging the expansion is expected to be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal in November.

Chairperson of the uMfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, Philla Ndimande, says Ntshangase’s death has left the community sad.

“Ntshangase, we have lost her which is really very sad I must say; the community is sad about it. One will have to wait for months to see what is going to happen after this, but the environment at the moment is not conducive at all; even to move around in the community. People are scared that maybe the attackers might come back and kill more people.”

Coal campaign manager at non-profit environmental justice organisation, GroundWork, Robby Mokgalaka, says such incidents make people more fearful to speak out.

“We are shocked and of course we are scared. We are feeling sympathetic to the people because we know that wherever they are, they are actually shaken. We discourage that in a very serious way because this people are fighting for their rights in terms of Section 24 of the Constitution, which provides everyone who has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health. So with the mine in place, they have to respect that right they have to make sure that when people speak in protection of their own rights, they are respected ahead but instead of being shot down. So this is actually inducing fear making sure that peoples voices and the rights are suppressed which is not good. We think people need to be respected, people need to be listened to because this is a genuine complaint or consent from people who are harmless.”

Intimidation of activists

Sifiso Dladla from international non-governmental organisation, ActionAid, claims that the intimidation of activists related to this matter is not new.

“We are appalled by the killing of comrade Fikile Ntshangase on Thursday night. We’ve been working with the community, we found some discrepancies in that what the mine had promised to do but it hadn’t done that and amongst those things; intimidation of activists and intimidation of people that are standing up against the mine. This time around, we’ve been noticing that even activists that use to be against the mine have turned against the people that are against the mine. Right now, we can only state that there’s no woman in Ophondweni in Somkhele that is safe after the killing of mam’Fikile.”