/ 21 October 2022

Two years later and still no justice for murdered activist

Fikile Ntshangase
The murder of Fikile Ntshangase in KwaZulu-Natal was not an isolated incident. Around the globe, from Nigeria to Brazil, environmental activists are similarly being silenced, and it is our duty to continue this struggle. (Oupa Nkosi)

It has been two years since environmental activist and human rights defender Fikile Ntshangase, was silenced with six bullets and yet no one has been held accountable for her murder, Amnesty International South Africa said ahead of the anniversary of her death. 

Ntshangase was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal, on 22 October 2020. 

She was an outspoken critic of the open coal mine at Somkele, on the border of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi game park in northern KwaZulu-Natal, by Tendele Coal and its proposed extension of mining operations in the area.

“It was because Fikile was a vocal opponent of the expansion of mining operations in her community that she received threats, was intimidated, and eventually silenced,” Amnesty International South Africa executive director Shenilla Mohamed said.

“It is alleged that the three hitmen who took Fikile’s life are known to the police in the area  but yet there have been no arrests. This lack of accountability means that activists like Fikile continue to be at risk.”

Since 2016, there has been growing opposition to Tendele Coal by residents of Somkhele. Marches against the expansion of mining operations in the area have reportedly ended with a memorandum of grievances presented to the relevant authorities and stakeholders. Many community members have appealed against the mine’s attempted expansion out of fear that it would lead to their forced eviction and threaten their livelihoods. 

Local activists have also reported that current mining activities in the area are having a detrimental impact on the environment, including the quality of air and water. 

“The government has an obligation to ensure the protection and safety of its people and uphold their right to say ‘no’  to mining in their communities,” Mohamed said. 

“Sadly, for many human rights defenders, this is not the case, leaving those who are fighting to defend their rights, and those of others, largely without protection.

“As we commemorate the second anniversary of Fikile’s murder, we need to continue demanding justice for her and her family,” she said.

It was concerning that human rights defenders in South Africa were not safeguarded. 

“These people, who are risking their lives in order to protect the people of South Africa and combat corruption, advocate for human rights, or better the lives of others, are treated with such disdain by the state,” Mohamed said. 

Human rights defenders and whistleblowers are critical to any democracy because they are a warning sign that lets us know as a society, as authorities, that something is going wrong. They expose acts of criminality and abuse by governments, corporations, organisations and individuals. Without whistleblowers, evidence of large-scale human rights violations would never surface.

“We are lucky that there are still people out there who are prepared to put their lives on the line to do the right thing but the concern is that, because of this lack of protection and disdain for their lives, this could also be a deterrent for some who might want to come forward and speak out or stand up for what is right.” 

Amnesty International South Africa is advocating for justice for Ntshangase as part of the organisation’s record-breaking Write for Rights campaign, which has mobilised hundreds of thousands of people around the world to change the lives of individuals at risk by taking action.

Since 2001, the organisation has collected millions of messages written in support of people who are unjustly detained or persecuted. Write for Rights has become the world’s biggest human rights event.

Take action here and demand those responsible for killing Ntshangase are immediately arrested and prosecuted.