The 22nd October 2021 marked the one year anniversary of the assassination of KwaZulu-Natal based socio-environmental justice activist, Fikile Ntshangase. Over 365 days have passed, each day filled with the outcry of thousands who still feel enraged by her murder and equally filled with sadness and fear as well. A year has passed and still no justice. A year has passed and the killers are still free.
Mam’ Ntshangase was not just a powerful voice opposing the proposed expansion of the Tendele Coal mine at Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal. She was also a mother, grandmother, sister, and friend. She opposed the expansion of the mine to protect her family and community from the effects of coal, and to protect the 21 families who faced relocation from their ancestral lands. She opposed the expansion to protect all of us from the climate, environmental, social and economic harms brought on by coal mining in the age of climate crisis.
As Bobby Peek, director of groundWork said: “all she did was question if mining was the right option for her community. For this we insist she was murdered.”
Ntshangase’s death is not an isolated incident. A report released on 13 September 2021 revealed that at least 227 land and environmental activists were murdered in 2020 for defending their land and the planet.This is a 7% year-on-year increase from 2019.
Over the past while, thousands of people across the country have come together to remember Mam’ Ntshangase, her work, and many other activists who had their lives unjustly taken from them. On Saturday, 23rd October 2021 at the Ashley Kriel Hall, in Community House, Salt River – a site of activism from around the mid-1980s that has shaped and continues to shape the socio-political landscape of its extended communities – activists in Cape Town took a moment to show their respects for the activist, community leader, and grandmother and shared thoughts and feelings.
As those present watched and listened to the feelings from Mam’ Ntshangase’s community, friends, and family it was apparent that even though many people in the space did not know her, her impact as an activist and her murder had, over time, become personal.
We’ve all heard that activists are in constant danger for simply standing up and taking action, but for many young people who have, in the past few years, stepped into the space, those words rang hollow, until the murder of Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe and, more recently, Fikile Ntshangase. While they were not martyrs, and their murders were not “needed sacrifices” in any way, there is no doubt that it was an eye-opener for many people, not only those who are activists and are on the frontlines at constant risk. These murders proved that justice is still something activists fight for after they’ve died, just as much – if not more – than they did when they were alive.
It has been just under a week since Mam’ Ntshangase’s vigil and already her name, her assassination, and her need for justice have already left the conversations of many.
As South Africans – activists or not – we need to keep fighting. Fikile Ntshangase fought to protect us, and now it is time that we fight to protect what she stood for and other activists just like her. We cannot let another year pass without justice.