South Africa | Fikile Ntshangase opposed a mine extension. Last night she was murdered

The other is to set aside additional mining rights granted in 2016 and covering more than 222 square kilometres.

Ntshangase was apparently shot and killed in her home in Ophondweni, just 500m away from a planned mining extension, at about 6:30pm on Thursday evening, though police still need to confirm these details.

Neighbouring subsistence farmers complain that coal dust pollutes their crops, turns their white chickens grey and the intestines of their goats black. Photo Rob Symons

He reckons the payouts to directly affected families in the Ophondweni and Emalahleni villages areas were double, and in some cases, ten times more than the market value of their homes.

“I can tell you the Zulu king and the Office of the KwaZulu-Natal premier go berserk. It’s mind boggling how much we pay. It’s close to blackmail,” said Du Preez.

This gives inordinate powers to chiefs and traditional leaders, who represent the king, to negotiate with mining companies. It also means the compensation villagers receive from the mine is limited to covering their houses and any improvements, as well as the costs of moving and relocating, but not for the land itself.

Most villagers living near Somkhele coal mine eke out a living, keeping a few goats, cattle and chickens and growing food for the table. They blame the mine for polluting water sources and depriving them of grazing and arable land. They have long complained of noise and dust. And they point to the walls and windows of their homes, cracked they say, by regular blasting.

Elias Sikhosana, a Somkhele village elder, is among more than 225 families relocated since 2007 to make way for the mine. “To any human being it is painful to dig up someone that has been buried for so long. It opens wounds even worse than when that person died. And in Zulu culture, we keep the graves of our loved ones close to us so we can go to them at any time for guidance, as if they were still with us.”

The Somkhele coal mine is situated on the border of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park. Photo: Rob Symons

“All those refusing to sign relocation agreements with Tendele have received death threats,” said Youens.

The MOU further states: “The MCEJO Committee members that sign this document agree that all pending court cases and all outstanding legal issues between the Parties shall be withdrawn”. It further advises the seven MCEJO signatories to seek a mandate from all its members and legal representatives “to not bring any legal action or court proceedings” against Tendele from the date when the mining starts in the new mining areas.

Children play with Lego at a creche at Tholokuhle – one of several local educational initiatives Tendele Mining has sponsored.

He said it would be a travesty of justice if the mine had to close because 19 families refused to relocate, or if a court application preventing the planned mine extension were to succeed.

“The actual truth is that Tendele cannot commence site preparation or core mining activities until such time as it has obtained all necessary environmental authorisations,” she says.

In an attempt to resolve this stand-off, Tendele applied to the Pietermartizburg High Court in May this year to intervene and determine compensation payouts to the 19 families in Ophondweni and Emlalahleni.

Many families living near the coal mine are still angry that family graves were desecrated and the skeletal remains buried in a cemetery and not at their homes as his custom. Photo: Rob Symons

She continues with a detailed account of how representatives of the mine and traditional authorities put pressure on her family to sign a relocation agreement, and how finally, her home was raked by gunfire in a drive-by shooting as her family were settling in for the night, on 24 April 2020.

“My daughter and two-year-old granddaughter had been sleeping … As soon as the shooting started, they rolled onto the floor and my daughter held my granddaughter down so that she would not stand up. They were not hit. Afterwards we found four bullets inside the house and 19 cartridges outside,” said Mthethwa.

“We are retrenching some 400 people, and had to shut down one plant … If the mine can be saved the risk of violence will dramatically decrease,” said Du Preez.