A South African environmental activist who opposed the extension of a coalmine near her home has been shot dead in her home.
Fikile Ntshangase, 65, was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele, close to Hluhluwe–Imfolozi park, the oldest nature reserve in Africa.
Local police told the Guardian that four men entered Ntshangase’s home in Ophondweni, KwaZulu-Natal province, at about 6.30pm on Thursday and shot her dead. A 13-year-old child witnessed the murder and is helping authorities with their investigation. No arrests have been made.
Tendele Coal condemned what it called a “senseless killing” and called for calm, in a joint statement with local leaders.
The coalmine had been the focus of a protracted legal dispute between the company, conservationists, and some locals who are in favour of extending it for economic reasons.
Kirsten Youens, Ntshangase’s lawyer, said her client was a “courageous activist” against the expansion of the mine. Ntshangase was a prominent member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation.
“She was incredibly outspoken about the truth and justice, having no qualms about calling people out who she felt with being devious or untruthful,” Youens said. “She did not compromise her ethics. Ever. As her attorney, I will miss her truth, her fire and courage. She did not deserve to die. We are devastated by her loss.”
She said Ntshangase had said recently: “I cannot sell out my people and if need be I will die for my people.”
People near the mine have been the focus of threats of violence and intimidation in recent months, according to lawyers representing the communities. Families that have refused to be relocated from their ancestral lands have reportedly been shot at.
A Global Witness report in July said a record number of people around the world were killed for defending their land and environment in 2019. The total was 212, up nearly 30% from the previous year’s 164.