Mtubatuba community hopeful of breakthrough in Ntshangase’s killing

Mtubatuba community hopeful of breakthrough in Ntshangase’s killing

The Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) says police have asked for 48 hours to find suspects in the murder of environmental activist, Fikile Ntshangase.

Local Voices caught up with MCEJO Coordinator Philani Ndimande on Monday evening, during a leadership meeting of organisation.

They said they had just returned from a meeting with the commander of the Ophondweni Police Station where Ntshangase stayed.

“He has asked us to give them 48 hours to find the suspects,” Ndimande revealed. “He had previously said we should give him 72 hours. So this really gives us hope that Mam’Ntshangase’s killers will be found.”

Ndimande says Ntshangase was like a mother to him. Describing losing her as a huge blow for the rural community of Somkhele, near Mtubatuba, in KwaZulu-Natal, he added: “Her death gives us the strength to double our efforts and make her wish come true for her community to be helped through this organisation.”

It is suspected that Ntshangase’s murder was linked to MCEJO’s fight against Tendele Coal Mining’s bid to expand operations in the area.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has expressed concern that the murder could spark violence.

In a statement, the party says the Mtubatuba community seems divided on the matter.

“We, therefore, urge the leadership and whole community of the area to handle this matter with calm and find a way to balance the mining and environmental activities.”

The party says it will embark on a fact-finding mission to the area next week.

Ntshangase (65) was gunned down in front of his 13-year-old grandson. The child’s mother was not staying with them due to work but she has returned home following the tragedy. Ndimande says they are receiving counselling.

The environmental activist, whom Ndimande has as a leader with exceptional skills, will be laid to rest on Friday in Stanger, in Kwadukuza. Her funeral service will be held at the Maphumulo Lutheran Church. A date her memorial service had not been set at the time of publishing.

There must be nothing about our land and us without us

The uMfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation is embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Tendele Coal Mine.

The mine’s proposed expansion, on the border of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park, will require the relocation of more at least 21 families from their ancestral land.

Some activists have allegedly also been intimidated and threatened with death.

Ndimande says their concern is the impact this will have on the environment.

“This place gives us peace. We enjoy the tranquillity of the place and living together with nature. We also plant our own crops; have livestock while we live in harmony with the Big Five.”

Ndimande says government is supporting Tendele’s bid and is pushing for mining in various rural communities. “We have a challenge but we are more than prepared to fight for our rights.”

“Our government is pushing to take the land from us; knowing very well that is totally against the environment we are in. Imagine what mining will do to the Big Five. Our water – we are getting it from Mfolozi River and mining will pollute our water.”

He is urging government to listen to civil society and affected communities.

“We need to government to listen to listen to proposals of civil society who are pushing for a just Mining Charter. As she (Fikile Ntshangase) is not the first one to have been killed – and she is a woman, it feels like people that we trusted with our freedom are taking us back to oppression. To me this is even worse. There must be nothing about our land and us without us!”

News agency, GroundUp, has reported that Tendele CEO Jan du Preez has condemned Ntshangase’s murder and recent incidents of violence and intimidation, which he linked to concerns about the threat of job losses. He is also said to have rejected as blatant lies claims that community members who are supporting the mine’s expansion had been bribed.