/ 17 November 2020

Xolobeni activist receives death threat

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Amadiba Crisis Committee co-founder Nonhle Mbuthuma. (Madelene Cronjé)

On 15 November, a threat was made via text message on the life of Nonhle Mbuthuma, a prominent anti-mining activist in Umgungundlovu in Eastern Mpondoland. According to the message, which she received from an unknown number at 10.40pm, the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) spokesperson may be in grave danger.

The message, which listed Mbuthuma among other anti-mining activists from the area who have either been killed or died, made a number of open threats of murder against the 41-year-old.

Mbuthuma, whose native Sigidi has been one of the villages central to a series of legal victories against the proposed stripping of ancestral Umgungundlovu land for titanium, said she is taking the threat seriously. “We don’t know when they are going to strike, and how they are going to strike,” she said. “Those are the questions in my head at the moment.”

Assassinations have become part of the political currency in Umgungundlovu – often called Xolobeni after one of the villages in the area – since people living there started resisting the proposed mining. In early 2016, two men pretending to be police officers murdered Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe. He founded the ACC with Mbuthuma and others, and was chairperson of the organisation at the time.

The text message sent to Mbuthuma appeared to make reference to this bloody history.

“You are next,” read the message, before placing Mbuthuma on what looked like a hit list: “1. bazooka 2. sbu 3. nonhle.” The “sbu” in between Radebe and Mbuthuma was likely a reference to Sibusiso Mqadi, the ACC chairperson who died in Durban’s Albert Luthuli Hospital on 8 November after experiencing severe inflammation of his abdominal cavity. Early signs suggest it was unlikely the result of toxins, but other anti-mining activists remain sceptical and open to the possibility that Mqadi may have been poisoned.

‘The cowardice of people’

“I’m very stressed, I don’t understand why I have been harassed,” said Mbuthuma. “I thought that I will manage the death of S’bu [Mqadi], but this changes my mood completely. It makes me furious and angry. What makes me angry is the cowardice of people. If [the sender of the text message] can show up to show they are not a coward. If the mining is a good thing, why can’t you speak up?”

Resistance has long been a deadly business for the often-impoverished activists and communities who stand up to mining corporations. But the threat on Mbuthuma’s life comes at a time when defiance at a grassroots level appears to have become particularly dangerous. Less than a month ago, on 22 October, 62-year-old Fikile Ntshangase, who opposed the expansion of an anthracite mine in northern KwaZulu-Natal, was murdered.

In a rough translation, the message to Mbuthuma went on to say, “You are all going to be killed, including your man with the beard, because you and that man of yours with beard are witches.” While it remains uncertain who the bearded man might be, the final lines of the message could not be clearer: “You will run out of money for paying for security and we will get you. We are not going to be controlled by a bitch. Once you change your security, we will strike.”

The threat appears to be a reference to the private security guards that Mbuthuma and others in the ACC, like members of other social movements in the country, were forced to enlist after the murder of Radebe and other death threats.

New Frame is waiting on details regarding what steps are being taken after the threats were reported at the Port Edward police station. We can confirm that the South African Police Service, along with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, is investigating a case regarding Mbuthuma.

This article was first published on New Frame