Posts Tagged ‘MEA finalists 2020’

More about MEA finalist Sizani Ngubane from South Africa

January 7, 2020

staff writer on the Christian Science Monitor published on 6 January 2020 a Question and Answer piece with Sizani Ngubane, the South African land rights defender who became a finalist for the Martin Ennals Award [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/breaking-news-mea-has-3-women-hrds-as-finalists-for-2020/ ]
The first inkling Sizani Ngubane had that she might grow up to be an activist came when she was just 6 years old. It was the early 1950s, and while her father, a migrant worker, was away from the family home near the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg, his brother evicted her mother from their land. “You’re a woman,” she remembers her uncle telling her mother, “so you have no right to this property if your husband isn’t around. Those were the early years of apartheid, South Africa’s infamous system of white minority rule, and a woman like Ms. Ngubane’s mother had few places to turn. The white government wasn’t likely to be on her side, and neither were the men in charge in her own community. At 6, of course, Ms. Ngubane didn’t know exactly what was happening, but her mother’s humiliation told her all she needed to know. “From that experience I just said to myself, when I grow up I want to be part of the people who are going to correct these wrongs,” she says. 

In the 70 years since, indeed, she has become the voice for tens of thousands of women like her mother. In the late 1990s, Ms. Ngubane was a founding member of the Rural Women’s Movement, which today counts some 50,000 members. Among other work, the organization fights to make sure women have access to, and ownership over, the land on which they live and work. This has been a major challenge in many rural areas under the authority of semi-autonomous traditional chieftaincies that were originally set up by the apartheid and colonial governments. These leaders have often been reticent to give more rights to women. As South Africa’s government mulls over whether to expropriate some land from white owners and return it to the country’s black majority, her work has become all the more urgent – and complicated.

Ms. Ngubane spoke by phone with the Monitor’s Johannesburg bureau chief Ryan Lenora Brown about why land is so important in South Africa, and what keeps her going as an activist.

Since the start of democracy in South Africa, there’s been a program to provide land or money to people who were stripped of their land during the colonial or apartheid periods. But it’s moved slowly, and over the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about expropriating land – that is to say, redistributing the land, whether current landowners want that or not. What do you think of that idea? And do you think it will really happen?

I support it. A large percentage of South African arable land is still in the hands of white people, even though they are a small minority in this country. How equal is that? How constitutional is that? But the problem now is that our government is not really doing anything about it. They promised us in the 1990s that by 2014 they would have redistributed 30% of land into hands of original users. I say users and not owners because in our culture land is not owned. Mother Nature was not a commodity that could be bought and sold. But only about 10% of that land has been returned to date. So I think those promises were politically motivated to get people to come out and vote in elections. I don’t see real transformation of the land situation happening anytime soon.  

Why is access to land so important for South African women in particular?

When you begin to give land to women, a lot of abuses in society are eliminated. They can feed their own families without fear of being evicted. They can inherit land when their male relatives die. And most importantly, they are not so controlled by the men in their lives. Because when land is the main value of a society and women cannot own land, we are nothing. We are not 100% human beings. It is easy to abuse and abandon us. So the land is the only way out for us.

What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of? 

The thing I’m most proud of isn’t necessarily any legal battle we’ve won. It’s the fact that before we started this movement women in many rural communities were not empowered to speak. Now we see our women speaking up for their rights, even at national and international levels. And no one tells them to shut up, because we have taught them that this is our constitutional right. [The men] know they must listen.

You’ve been an activist for nearly six decades. And there are still more battles to be fought. Right now, for instance, you’re preparing to go to court as part of a challenge against the Ingonyama Trust, an organization run by the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini that controls an area in eastern South Africa the size of Belgium. I’m wondering what keeps you going through battles like this one. 

It comes from my heart. From when I was 6 years old I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. Don’t ask me how exactly I knew there was a world outside that rural community where I grew up. The only other place I had ever seen was the city of Pietermaritzburg [10 miles away], where I went once a year with my mother to buy school shoes. But somehow I knew even then I was going to grow up to see the world, and learn from it. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

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On 28 November 2019 Kim Harrisberg reports for the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the “Death-Defying South African Nominated for International Human Rights Award“. A South African women’s land rights activist who has been stabbed with a knife, slapped with a gun and hit by a speeding car and those are just a few of the murder attempts on Sizani Ngubane who is currently in hiding to prevent further attempts on her long life of activism.

“We cannot separate women’s land rights from gender based violence in South Africa,” said the 74-year-old activist who frequently champions women’s access to land in rural KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province. “We are celebrating 25 years of democracy, but rural women are still treated like children. It is not in line with our constitution,” Ngubane, founder of the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) land rights group, said in a phone interview.

Land is a hot topic in South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa last year launched a process to change the constitution with a proposed redistribution of land aimed at addressing high levels of inequality. But in KZN, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controls 2.8 million hectares of land, a fragmented sub-tropical area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust established in 1994. The Zulu monarch wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign an agreement promising to exclude territories that the king controls from land reform.

Land rights activists are challenging the control wielded by such traditional authorities over rural communities, particularly on women who are often evicted once widowed. “The trust has turned communities into tenants by leasing ancestral land to them,” said Ngubane, adding that a compulsory rent, rising 10% every year, had to be paid by community members who otherwise face eviction.

Ngubane, along with rights groups, is challenging the Ingonyama Trust in Pietermaritzburg High Court in March 2020. The work of the Rural Women’s Movement includes finding housing for evicted women and children, helping grow food on communal land for the hungry and sick, campaigning for better legal protection of women’s land rights and more. “We are like one big family,” Ngubane said. “We have now begun to spread our wings into different parts of the country.” Launched in 1998, the Rural Women’s Movement has grown to 50,000 women, said Ngubane.

Ngubane said there was retaliation and danger involved in challenging the traditional authorities, citing burnings, kidnappings and beatings of outspoken women and men. “My dream is that one day KwaZulu-Natal will be like other provinces, where women’s rights are seen as human rights and women are given the same power over land that men are keeping for themselves,” Ngubane said.

https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2020/0106/A-woman-s-right-to-her-land-Q-A-with-Sizani-Ngubane

Death-Defying South African Nominated for International Human Rights Award

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2019-11-28-human-rights-award-nominee-in-hiding-as-she-fights-for-womens-land-rights/

Daughter’s murder motivated Norma Ledezma to hunt for Mexico’s disappeared

December 5, 2019

The former factory worker, who left school at 11 but has completed a law degree since becoming a campaigner and founded her organization Justice for our Daughters in 2002. She succeeded in getting the government to name a justice center for women was named after Paloma, who was 16 when she went missing. She has also helped locate some victims alive, including several who were being trafficked. Most, however, are never found.

…Collectives of mothers who have lost children have scoured the Mexican countryside armed with shovels following tips of where mass graves might hold their loved ones. About one in four of those listed as missing are women, though the government said earlier this year it was reviewing the data. Ledezma said the government had no strategy to fix the issue. The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this year it said it would allow the United Nations to review reports on cases of disappearances.When her body was found, authorities did not run DNA tests on her, instead relying on clothing samples and the color of her nail polish. Ledezma could not bring herself to go into the room where her body lay. It was on the day of Paloma’s funeral that Ledezma decided to help those who seek justice for similar cases and she has pressed on despite threats from organized criminals. “I haven’t left the country because I have a debt to my daughter… I’ll be here until the last day”, she said.

BREAKING NEWS: MEA has 3 women HRDs as finalists for 2020

November 26, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late on Monday 25 November 2019 the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders announced that its has three exceptional women as the finalists for the 2020 award, a demonstration of the leading position now occupied by women in the defence of human rights. In Yemen, Huda Al-Sarari has exposed and challenged the existence of secret prisons and many cases of torture. In Mexico, Norma Ledezma is fighting against femicides and disappearances. In South Africa, Sizani Ngubane is fighting for access for women to education and to land.

In 2020, for the first time the Jury nominated three women who defend the fundamental rights of their communities in sensitive contexts. ‘The Martin Ennals Foundation is proud to recognise the courageous work of three women. For the 2020 edition, our Jury’s choice reflects the ever-greater global impetus of individuals – whatever their gender – who are committed to respect for human rights and women’s rights in particular’, says Isabel de Sola, Director of the Martin Ennals Foundation.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence-start-on-25-november-2019/]

The 2020 Finalists are:

  • In Yemen, where the conflict has been ongoing since 2005, Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni lawyer, unveiled the existence of several secret detention centres where the worst violations of human rights were committed: torture, disappearances or even extrajudicial executions.
  • In South Africa, women face discrimination, the worst expression of which is widespread gender violence. In rural communities, they frequently have their land expropriated and are deprived of access to education and justice. Sizani Ngubane founded an organisation of more than 50,000 women from rural areas in her country and has fought successfully for over 40 years for the recognition of their rights.
  • In Mexico, the civil population is paying a high price for the weakness of the rule of law which is underpins widespread violence and impunity. Women are the primary victims, with more than 3,500 femicides committed each year. Norma Ledezma, who is the mother of one of the victims, puts all her energy into supporting families seeking access to justice in the state of Chihuahua.

Huda Al-Sarari is a Yemeni lawyer and human rights activist. She graduated in Sharia and Law from Aden University in 2011 and holds a masters in Women’s Studies and Development from the Women’s Centre at Aden University. She has been working for more than a decade with numerous local Yemeni human rights organisations such as the Yemeni Women’s Union, the Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms and the National Committee to Investigate Allegations of Human Rights Violations. Over the last years, she investigated, exposed and challenged the network of secret prisons run by foreign governments in Yemen since 2015, where thousands of men and boys suffered arbitrary detention and torture. Huda Al-Sarari collected evidence on more than 250 cases of abuse taking place within the prisons and succeeded in convincing international organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to take up the cause. Despite the threats, defamation campaigns and sacrifices she and her family endured, she continues to stand alongside the families of those who have disappeared and pursue justice. In October 2019, she was honoured as a co-finalist by the Aurora Prize.

Huda Al Sarari has chosen not to leave Yemen. That is a decision which shows a rare courage, all the more so as she is working in a high-risk context and a source of danger for herself’ declared Alice Mogwe of the FIDH

Norma Librada Ledezma began her career as a human rights defender the day her daughter, Paloma, disappeared on her way home from school in Chihuahua, Mexico. Since that moment, Norma has dedicated herself to seeking justice for the families and victims of femicide, disappearance and human trafficking in Mexico. She is one of the founders and Director of Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, a local organisation that offers legal counsel and support to ongoing cases. She is a member of the Board of the Centre for Justice for Women of Chihuahua, the Consultative Assembly of the Executive Committee for Victim’s Redress, and Deputy Coordinator of the Committee for Prevention and Redress of Domestic and Gender-based Violence. Norma has supported over 200 investigations into cases of femicide and disappearances, on behalf of both male and female victims. As a party in the case over her daughter’s murder, which was brought before the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, Norma is responsible for the creation of a Special Prosecutor for Women Victims of Violence in her native state of Chihuahua. In spite of having received numerous death threats, she continues with her human rights work.

Norma Ledezma has received numerous death threats, but she is not daunted and continues her work seeking not only to obtain justice for the murder of her daughter, but for all the young women who have been murdered,’ noted Andrew Anderson of Frontline Defenders.

Sizani Ngubane is a South African activist who has dedicated her life to promoting gender equality, fighting for women’s and indigenous people’s rights. After her initial career as an activist with the ANC, she became Provincial Coordinator of the SA Women’s National Coalition in 1991 and contributed to the development of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality in South Africa. That contribution was instrumental in building the section on rural and indigenous women of the Bill of Rights within the South African Constitution. In 1998, Sizani founded the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM), a unique organisation striving against gender-based violence and for women’s access to land, education, land rights, property and inheritance rights in courts operating under customary law. Recently, she is focused on fighting against traditional courts legislation, such as the Ingonyama Trust, which could lead to the misappropriation of many families’ land in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Sizani Ngubane’s work has greatly advanced the rights of women and girls in South Africa over more than 40 years,’ underlined Guadalupe Marengo of Amnesty International.

The jury of the MEA  is made up of ten of the world’s leading human rights organisations. They are: Amnesty International,  Bread for the World, the International Commission of Jurists, the FIDH, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, HURIDOCS, the World Organisation against Torture and the International Service for Human Rights. In order to reflect the cultural and geographic diversity of the human rights movement, a global network of regional human rights organisations consults with the selection process.

The 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders will be presented to one of them on 19 February during a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva in the Salle Communale de Plainpalais (Geneva), in the presence of the three finalists. The event, organised by the City of Geneva, is open to the public. In order to make it possible for an international audience to participate, the event is also livestreamed. All the details on the evening’s event is available here: www.martinennalsaward.org

For more information on this and other awards, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/martin-ennals-award-for-human-rights-defenders

For media inquiries contact: Chloé Bitton, Communications Manager, Martin Ennals Foundation media@martinennalsaward.org Mobile: +41.78.734.68.79

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