Statement and expression of condolence by groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa Director, Bobby Peek, at the memorial service of MaFikile Ntshagase at Somkhele, KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa on 29 October 2020

A few words from groundWork

We thank the family and organisers for allowing groundWork the space to say a few words.  

We have worked with MaFikile Ntshangase over the last years and supported MCEJO and the community as they sought to challenge the Somkhele mine and other proposed mines in the area.  Just last year MaFikile spent time with us and other community activist in Mpumalanga, trying to better understand the impacts of coal mining on society.

Our sincere condolences and solidarity with the Ntshangase family.  With the people of this beautiful land, with the friends in MCEJO.

I also bring condolences from Friends of the Earth International, the largest grassroots led environmental Federation in the world “who want to assure you that Friends of the Earth federation strongly condemns the killing of Mama Ntshangase and we will support you to demand justice so that impunity will not prevail.  We take Mama Ntshangase’s struggle as an inspiration and will not forget her commitment and work for her community.” 

MaFikile Ntshangase paid with her life because she wanted to participate freely in an Open Democracy which was promised us in 1995, when Tata Madiba became our first democratically elected President.  But clearly years later people do not want this.  They want to sow fear so that we will not question undemocratic practice by the State and corporations.

MaFikile today is with the ancestors, not only from this area, but with the many who have died because they have tried to defend their land, livelihoods and their environments.  Global Witness, an organisation which monitors Human Rights, Land and Environmental defenders globally, gives us the sad hard evidence that MaFikile was not alone.  In July they released their Annual Report, which stated that in 2019, 212 people were murdered globally for peacefully defending their homes and standing up to the destruction of nature.  This is four people every week.

Mining was the deadliest sector globally with 50 defenders killed in 2019.

But closer to home, this is not a surprise as groundWork, MCEJO, the Centre for Environmental Rights, Earthlife, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Womin, MACUA, MEJCON, the Global Environmental Trust and very many other people’s organisations warned of this violence.  In March 2016, groundWork shared the pain and anger of the Radebe family and community of Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape.  Today we share the same pain and anger with you.

We note that the violence and murder extend beyond this area. In 2017 six people were murdered in Empembeni, near Richards Bay, allegedly linked to an oil development. Also in Richards Bay, violence has erupted between community people over mining which resulted in the death of Meshach Mbuyazi.  It is clear that when mines and oil come to communities, death visits the community as well.  This is why groundWork’s position is ‘No to Mining’, not here or on any other peoples’ land.

We have been warned.  The pain was foretold.  Human Rights Watch and our very own South African Human Rights Commission raised concerns about the mining activities in the area and the impact on people lands and safety in 2018 and 2019.

Just a few weeks from now, On 10th November we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 of his community friends who was murdered by the Nigerian State for his resistance to Shell’s activities in Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta.  Tata Mandela criticised the Nigeria state and  the Dictator Abacha.  We need to ensure that MaFikile is always remembered with Ken and his friends.   We must be vocal and we must challenge our state to act and swiftly investigate the murder and other violent threats in the Somkhele area, to prevent further loss of life.

Finally, I bring condolences from community people, friends and organisations from across the world.  From Sweden, the US, El Salvador, The Philippines, Mozambique, India, Australia,  Ghana, Kenya, Uruguay, Togo and many more.  Too many to mention.

May her soul rest in peace with all the ancestors.