Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

MEA 2020 finalist Sizani Ngubane Dies

December 23, 2020

NGO CSW/NY/YouTube Sizani Ngubane, founder of the Rural Women’s Movement land rights group in South Africa. 23 December 2020 allAfrica.com

South African women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane (also known as uGogo) has died, according to the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) – an organisation of which she was the director and founder. This sad news was brought by AllAfrica.com on 23 December.

There were several attempts on Ngubane’s life during her 40 years of activism. At the time of her death she and her organisation , along with rights groups, were challenging the Ingonyama Trust in Pietermaritzburg High Court, Thomson Reuters reported in November 2020. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/07/more-about-mea-finalist-sizani-ngubane-from-south-africa/]

Their work so far includes finding housing for evicted women and children, helping grow food on communal land for the hungry and sick, and campaigning for better legal protection of women’s land rights. Ngubane said the movement, which was launched in 1998, has now grown to 50,000 women.

She was in 2020 one of three finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is referred to as the Nobel Prize for human rights.

The RWM statement, released via their Twitter account, read:

We are saddened to share that our Founder and Director, uGogo Sizani Ngubane has passed on. She transformed countless lives. A lifelong freedom fighter, first against the brutal apartheid regime, uGogo, alongside other rural women, would later charge forward towards the promises of democracy.

“Tirelessly working for women’s land rights and equality, uGogo also laboured against gender-based violence and other challenges facing rural women. Originating in a non-partisan, women-led peace building movement, we have become a leader-full movement inspiring countless across KZN, South Africa, and the globe.
She was really beyond a special person. Fearless. Creative. Kind. Determined like no other. An unwavering belief in others and an endless reservoir of empathy and ubuntu.

She will be missed deeply by all. Hamba kahle, Gogo.”

This tribute was followed by one from Nomboniso Gasa, in which she wrote: ” Mam’ Sizani Ngubane has died. She was a gentle giant. My heart’s breaking. Last time I spoke to her, she was fatigued from a govt hell-bent on destructive Bills, TCB & TKLB.
Can’t imagine Rural Women’s movement – which she found in 1990 – without her energy, courage and vision
.”

The Ennals Award ceremony was to be streamed live from Geneva on February 19, 2020, and the Martin Ennals Foundation said about Ngubane after it decided to recognise her work with a nomination: ” 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.”

On hearing of her death, the MEA tweeted: ” A lifetime #HumanRights giant is gone. #SouthAfrica #WomenRights champion and #MartinEnnals finalist #SizaniNgubane has passed away. Generous, determined, loving, resilient, she was the very essence of a #HRD . She will be dearly missed.

https://allafrica.com/stories/202012230793.html

Action for the #IBelong Campaign in South Africa

November 13, 2020

A group of eminent personalities in South Africa, among whom Arnold Tsunga, Chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network have addressed an open letter to the nation saying “Every child needs a birth certificate“:

Dear South Africans,

More than a million children are born in our country each year and are issued birth certificates.  But estimates are that another 100 000 children are not registered at birth in South Africa, setting them up for a lifetime of exclusion, disadvantage, and de facto statelessness.  

Our progressive constitution provides the right to a name and nationality from birth for every child. It also ensures the right to primary education, to healthcare and other social services, to protection from exploitation and abuse — among numerous other important human rights.  A birth certificate is key to a nationality, identity, and to the opportunities and obligations that will be part of what it means to be South African for the rest of their lives.  We can take pride in these provisions for our children, and the steps and progress made by our leaders to put them in place. 

Without a birth certificate, a child is at risk of being stateless, which means no country will recognize him/her as a citizen. Often, such children are excluded from accessing the fundamental rights and opportunities we take for granted, and stateless children may be joining a long line of family members before them.  Because their parents and grandparents lacked identity documents, they are unable to prove their child’s right to a birth certificate, and with it, a nationality. 

As supporters of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness, we call on our leaders and communities to remove barriers for these children.  Let us streamline and simplify birth registration processes.  Let us make sure that cost or distance from civil registration centres are not factors that condemn a child to be marginalised, and ultimately stateless.

Let us make sure that all parents understand their children’s rights and are supported to complete the steps needed to register their birth, regardless of their documentation status.

Let us ensure that safeguards against statelessness are in place to protect orphans and children found abandoned in South Africa.  Above all, let’s fulfil the promise to all children throughout this country that is laid out in our constitution.

South Africa’s future prospects lie with its children, and how well we prepare them for tomorrow.  By making sure that every child’s birth is registered, we can give them the best start in life: to seek health care, to be educated, to work legally, to pursue justice under the law, to vote, to marry, to provide for a family, and one day to register the birth of their own child. 

By doing so, we make it possible for them to play for their national sports team, to lead a municipality, a congregation, or a nation.  To become scientists, artists, writers, teachers, journalists or performers, with the potential to influence thought, or to shape our country’s history for the better, and ultimately that of our continent and the world.

Through birth registration, we have the opportunity to end one of the causes of statelessness forever.  Together, let’s do so.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/10/about-the-struggle-against-statelessness/

https://mg.co.za/special-reports/2020-11-13-every-child-needs-a-birth-certificate/

Fikile Nsthangashe: “I will die for my people” and she did..

November 2, 2020

Portrait of a Community Activist

In the Daily Maverick of 1 November 2020 Estelle Ellis tells the sad story of murdered land rights defender Fikile Ntshangase in South Africa

A strongly worded statement from a large number of civil society organisations in South Africa has condemned the death of KwaZulu-Natal community activist Fikile Ntshangashe who was gunned down in her home last week as lawyers were preparing for a groundbreaking appeal fighting an order that her community organisation and those who assisted them should pay for a failed attempt to stop further mining operations in the area.

I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.” This was the quote that activists remembered Mama Fikile Nsthangashe by after she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni near Mtubatuba on 22 October 2020.

As the vice-chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), she was deeply involved in the challenge against the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. She was described by her fellow activists as a strong, passionate and principled leader.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court of Appeal will hear one of Nsthangashe’s final stands – an appeal in the case brought by MCEJO to stop the mining operations in the area.

According to a joint statement issued by environmental rights NGO Groundworks; Earthlife Africa; Global Environmental Trust, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Women Against Mining United in Action the South African Police were called on to act swiftly and arrest those responsible for her death.

The statement alleges that four gunmen arrived at Ntshangashe’s home on 22 October 2020 at about 18:30. Her 11-year-old grandson was with her. She was shot five times and died at the scene.

“Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele,” the statement reads. “Over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations, and [her organisation’s] opposition to that expansion … Recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to be signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its Court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele. Mama Ntshangase refused to sign the agreement, which certain of her fellow sub-committee members signed, purportedly doing so on behalf of the organisation … She warned sub-committee members that they had no power to make decisions on behalf of MCEJO and that the agreement only benefited Tendele. She also refused to attend any of the secret meetings that other sub-committee members held with Tendele. Days before her brutal killing, Mama Ntshangase stated her intention to write an affidavit, revealing that sub-committee members had spoken to her of a payment of R350,000 in return for her signature,” she added.

According to the statement the expansion of the mine would require the relocation of 21 families (19 of them MCEJO members) from their ancestral land. Many of these families have lived on their land for generations.

We mourn the senseless tragedy of Mama Ntshangase’s murder, and condemn her killing. We call on the South African Police Service to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute her murderers,” the statement concluded.

Martin Mosweu from the Southern Africa Resource Watch said he was deeply saddened and angered by the killing of Ntshangase.

She was hailed as a courageous human rights defender by her community for standing against the Tendele Coal Mine expansion in violation of the right to a safe environment. The murder of Fikile Ntshangase is a cause of concern to the work of human rights defenders in South Africa and in the SADC region. Governments are failing in their international obligations to the Declaration of Human Rights by not protecting and supporting human rights defenders in the context of their work. In Southern Africa, people who live near mines continue to face threats of violence and intimidation from mining companies who blatantly disregard their socio-economic, land, and environmental rights. Human rights defenders continue to be threatened and killed for standing up against powerful mining companies that violate human rights, often with impunity and tacit support from governments. This is why many mining communities throughout the region are now taking a stand and demanding a new order, insisting on extractive projects that secure a beneficial win-win relationship, free and prior informed consent in involuntary displacements, and community engagement in all stages of the mining cycle for inter-generational sustainable livelihoods,” he added.

Papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal for a hearing on Tuesday, in one of the last battles that Ntshangase had been passionately fighting on behalf of her community, has painted a stark picture of the conflict in the area.

The appeal, brought by MCEJO and the Global Environmental Trust is against the refusal by the Pietermaritzburg High Court to issue an interdict to stop mining operations in the area.

The community claimed that the mine did not have the necessary environmental authorisation, lacked land use authorisation, had not removed or altered the traditional graves in the area according to law and had failed to comply with the Waste Act.

The mine, however, argued that it had all the valid mining rights and permissions to carry on with its operations. In papers filed at court, lawyers for Tendele, stressed that their operations were conducted in terms of valid Mining Rights and Environmental Management Programmes granted and approved by the Department of Mineral Resources in 2006 and that while the legislative framework had changed there were transitional measures put in place for mines like Tendele.

This, according to papers before court included the waste management at the mine.

According to papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), represented by advocate Max du Plessis SC; intervened in the matter because of its concerns that the judgment opened the door for mining companies to operate illegally. The CER also expressed its concern over a cost order made in the original case as this “would discourage communities from approaching the courts to defend their constitutional rights through the fear of being debilitated by having to pay the legal costs of industry and the state”.

For another land issue in South Africa, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/rural-women-in-south-africa-win-landmark-case-in-court/

George Bizos: Anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Mandela dies aged 92

September 10, 2020

Nelson Mandela's lawyer and friend George Bizos is pictured in Johannesburg in 2018
 
George Bizos is best known for defending Nelson Mandela at his trials – image copyrightAFP
Many media reported that South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, who famously defended Nelson Mandela, has died aged 92 (here the BBC).
After representing some of the country’s best known political activists during the apartheid years, Mr Bizos became one of the architects of South Africa’s new constitution. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his death, saying Mr Bizos had “contributed immensely to our democracy”.
George Bizos is most widely known for his work with Nelson Mandela. The pair met while studying law in Johannesburg and Mr Bizos went on to represent his friend and other anti-apartheid figures in various court cases. He was one of the lawyers who represented Mandela at his treason trial, which began in 1956. He also represented Mandela during the Rivonia Trial, when he and other anti-apartheid activists were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 on charges of seeking to overthrow the apartheid government.
George Bizos was born in Greece but came to South Africa at the age of 13 as a World War Two refugee. Before moving to South Africa, he and his father helped seven New Zealand soldiers to escape Nazi-occupied Greece. He fell out of education for an extended period of time and worked instead in a Greek shop, after arriving in Johannesburg with no English. He later trained as a lawyer at South Africa’s Witwatersrand university, before being admitted to the Johannesburg Bar. After the end of white minority rule, Mr Bizos helped to write South Africa’s new constitution. He also represented families of anti-apartheid activists who had been killed during apartheid at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In one of his last major trials, he secured government payouts for families of 34 mine workers who were killed by South African police in 2012.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54094248

Daily Maverick in South Africa keeps a weekly calendar of civil society events

February 3, 2020

South Africa‘s Daily Maverick has a weekly feature to inform readers of a cross-section of events organised by civil society organisations, including those by human rights defenders. Here some excerpts as illustration: .

2020 is in full swing. Last week the Maverick Citizen team met in Cape Town to discuss civil society plans and priorities for 2020 in South Africa and internationally and how best to report them. As our popular Civil Society Outlook showed, it’s going to be a pivotal year, and the reports we provided of activists’ plans were only the tip of the iceberg:

starting on Monday 3 February, civil society and human rights defenders from 30 countries will be meeting a few kilometres down the road at the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI). The AMI is in its eleventh year and is hosted by the Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (EJN of FOCCISA). Its theme is “environmental and economically sustainable mineral economies in an era of climate change catastrophe”.
Monday 3 February, watch out for the judgment of the Constitutional Court in Malawi on the fairness and legality of last year’s presidential elections in that country. Since the elections, Malawian civil society organisations have been at the forefront of protests. NGOs such as the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition and Freedom House are calling on the Malawian government to respect the rule of law and the decision of the court.
Wednesday February 5th is the 38th anniversary of the murder of Neil Aggett by the brutal apartheid security police. Next week will mark the third week of the inquest into his death. (FAWU) to South Gauteng High Court to demand the prosecution of his murderers.
Important public hearings are underway on the controversial and highly contested Traditional Courts Bill. However, Parliament, through omission or commission, seems to want to keep them as unpublic as possible. Last week, hearings took place in the Northern Cape. However, the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC), one of the bill’s most informed and vocal critics, only received a notification on Tuesday 28 January. The Gauteng hearings are scheduled to take place in February but dates are not yet confirmed.
Finally, an issue that should occupy us all every day. The Climate Justice Coalition is asking for your input on the draft Climate Justice Charter which it intends to present to Parliament later this year.
February: SONA, the budget and the civil society campaigns that attempt to arc society towards social justice. 

…… On Friday we will continue with our weekly profile of women activists who lead civil society.  

(If you have events or meetings which you think other activists ought to know about, write to us at: maverickcitizen@dailymaverick.co.za)

 

Civil Society Watch, 3-10 February 2020

Rural women in South Africa win landmark case in court

January 30, 2020

Kim Harrisberg for the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported on 29 January 2020 that an elderly black women in South Africa won property rights in a landmark ruling. Two weeks ago I wrote about Sizani Ngubane and her struggle for land rights for women [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/07/more-about-mea-finalist-sizani-ngubane-from-south-africa/] and this is a similar case:

Facing destitution when her marriage broke down, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole went to court – with the help of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) – to challenge a sexist law – and won not only a share of her husband’s property but a legal victory that will protect some 400,000 other black South African women. Under South African law, married couples own all their assets jointly and both must consent to major transactions.

But for black women married prior to 1988, the husband owned all matrimonial assets and could sell them without consulting his wife – until Sithole’s landmark High Court win this month which overturned the discriminatory law. “This is a major judgment for South African women,” said Aninka Claassens, a land rights expert at the University of Cape Town, responding to the ruling against sections of the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988. “If you haven’t got property rights as a woman, you are more vulnerable to stay in an abusive marriage. This case changes these rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Traditionally, women are regarded as inferior to men in Sithole’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane, who has campaigned against evictions and abuse of women in rural areas for more than 40 years. Male-dominated tribal authorities hold great sway over rural communities, with the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controlling 2.8 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust. Ngubane, nominated as one of three finalists in the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, said this month’s Durban court ruling was significant.

This will make a difference in terms of women’s land and property inheritance,” said Ngubane [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/breaking-news-mea-has-3-women-hrds-as-finalists-for-2020/]. Ngubane has gone to court to challenge the Ingonyama Trust, which she said only leases land under its control to men, with widows being evicted from their homes when their husbands die. Despite the legal victory, women’s rights experts were wary of celebrating too soon…….For Ngubane, such grassroots work is critical in improving the lives of rural South African women. “We know the courts can protect women,” she said. “The biggest challenge for us is changing attitudes of men on the ground who believe that women are children. We are so much more than that.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-safrica-land-women-trfn/elderly-black-women-in-south-africa-win-property-rights-in-landmark-ruling-idUSKBN1ZS1FV

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.

——

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/

Special fund for rural defenders in South Africa

December 25, 2019

People standing in a circle in a settlement
A group of activists meets before a march for land rights, in Cape Town, South Africa, on March 7, 2018.© Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty

Sharan Srinivas (program officer with the Open Society Human Rights Initiative) wrote on 16 December 2019 about Protecting Civil Society in South Africa. …Before he was gunned down in front of his son, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe—a leading environmental and housing advocate in Xolobeni, South Africa—telephoned others who had spoken out against mining interests along South Africa’s Wild Coast. He was checking on like-minded activists’ safety and warning them that a “hit list” had been developed targeting human rights defenders in the area who stood up against mining interests. Two hours later, gunmen posing as police officers shot him at his home.

No one has been held accountable in the killing of Rhadebe, which advocates now see as the first data point in a disturbing new trend. Increasingly, those that stand up for environmental, housing, and land rights in South Africa face bitter—and often violent—attacks. To counter this trend, the Open Society Foundations announced recently the creation of a new fund, hosted at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, intended to provide support to activists. The fund will provide support services to activists depending on their needs and will include the provision of legal representation; emergency relocation for activists and their families; and physical, psychological, and medical support.

South Africa is rightly commended for its vibrant civil society, robust institutions and progressive constitution, which enshrines the fundamental rights of expression and assembly. But joint research conducted by Human Rights Watch, Earth Justice, GroundWork, and the Center for Environmental Rights reveals that communities who are exercising these fundamental rights have faced vicious reprisals.

  • There is an ongoing pattern of police misconduct during peaceful protests.
  • Local municipalities often impose extralegal restrictions on protest in mining affected communities.
  • An environment of fear has been created among community activists.

Though activists based in South Africa’s major cities are well connected to the international infrastructure built to protect human rights defenders, many attacks against community-based activists located in rural and isolated parts of the country have gone unreported and unnoticed. The fund hopes to serve as a vehicle of solidarity, and to strengthen the resilience of frontline community activists. Sharan Srinivas is a .

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

Twitter : @martinennals

Facebook : facebook.com/martinennals
Youtube : youtube.com/martinennalsaward

LinkedIn : https://www.linkedin.com/company/martin-ennals-foundation/

 

 

South Africa needs its women human rights defenders

August 23, 2019

Call to action: Former judge Yvonne Mokgoro says society must prioritise women’s rights. (Muntu Vilakazi/City Press/Gallo Images)
Call to action: Former judge Yvonne Mokgoro says society must prioritise women’s rights. (Muntu Vilakazi/City Press/Gallo Images)

Inspired by a lecture on 14 August by former judge Yvonne Mokgoro about the dire social and economic condition of women in South Africa at a women’s month event hosted by the International Commission of Jurists and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, On 23 August 2019, three women human rights defenders in South Africa (Mateenah Hunter, a human-rights lawyer, and Shaazia Ebrahim and Tim Fish Hodgson who work for the Africa team of the International Commission of Jurists in Johannesburg) published a piece on the plight of women in South africa:

Mokgoro, South Africa’s first black female judge and a retired justice of the Constitutional Court, emphasised in her keynote address that poor, black women particularly continued to disproportionately bear the brunt of the most severe forms of poverty and inequality in South Africa. Poor black women face difficulties accessing a number of constitutionally recognised rights, including education, healthcare, land and housing. This, despite far-reaching constitutional protections of women’s rights and socioeconomic rights in South Africa’s Constitution…

Mokgoro’s moving and passionate address created an open environment in which women human-rights defenders and public-interest lawyers voiced their experiences of gendered socioeconomic rights violations in South Africa.
Mokgoro articulated the deep frustration of South African women with the government and broader society’s failure to act to curb and prevent the social, cultural and economic violence suffered by the women of South Africa. “Women constitute most of society. Why can’t we make women’s rights at the forefront? We must structure the rules to meet the needs of women,” Mokgoro said. She was moved to tears as she spoke.

Tumelo Matlwa and Amelia Rawháni-Mosalakae, lawyers at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, spoke to the all-too-common difficulties faced by women in South Africa who are married in community of property and who — because of an under-protective legal system and the disinterest of banks in their welfare — unwillingly take on their husbands’ debts. Poverty, they concluded, “is a form of economic violence that has a disproportionate effect on women”.

Fatima Shabodien, feminist activist and strategy director at the Raith Foundation, spoke directly to the sexual harassment crisis in the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) sector in South Africa, which has received extensive media coverage, and about the responses of a number of organisations to allegations of sexual harassment. …She urged human rights defenders, public interest lawyers, boards of NGOs and donors to demand that allegations of sexual harassment are dealt with expeditiously and effectively and that there are real and lasting consequences for perpetrators.

This was brought into sharp relief by Nonhle Mbuthuma, a community land rights activist and member of the Amadiba Crisis Committee. It is primarily women, Mbuthuma indicated, who are risking their lives and wellbeing by signing affidavits to go to court to fight against the use of their land for mining in the name of economic development. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/25/the-human-rights-defenders-in-ais-2018-write-for-rights-campaign/]

Mokgoro’s intervention was aimed at encouraging lawyers, judges and government officials to reverse this practice that often renders women invisible, thus limiting the transformative potential of the Constitution in their lives. Mokgoro called for an “engendering” of socioeconomic rights towards the social and economic liberation of women from the feminisation of poverty, citing Professor Sandra Fredman.

As young human-rights defenders, we are inspired by Mokgoro’s life, love, learning and labour through which she continues to contribute to the creation of a nonsexist society in which the oppressive effects of patriarchy are eliminated. We take this opportunity, in “Women’s Month”, to remember all those women, who, like Mokgoro, have struggled against the odds to bring us to this point.

  • The many women who risked their lives fighting apartheid and colonialism, including the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956, demanding that the apartheid government withdraw pass laws.
  • The women who fought to secure a seat at the table during our constitutional negotiations despite their initial marginalisation and ensured that women’s rights are now afforded significant constitutional protection;
  • The women who continue to campaign tirelessly for women’s reproductive rights and against gender-based violence.
  • The women public interest lawyers who bring women’s socioeconomic rights cases to our courts.
  • The women in grassroots social movements around the country who continue to claim their constitutional rights and insist that they are written into the story of our constitutional rights jurisprudence.
  • The women in homes around the country giving their love and labour on a daily basis to ensure that care work that is so crucial to our families and communities is undertaken.
  • The women in townships, urban centres and rural areas around the country who work as domestic workers, community health workers, informal traders and farm workers and many other precarious jobs; who sacrifice spending time with their own families to provide them with the basic necessities of life in the absence of sufficient support from the state.
  • The women of Marikana, who are still fighting for simple justice for their murdered husbands and partners and their decimated families, seven years after the Marikana massacre.

………

As Toni Morrison said: “If there’s a [story] that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Mokgoro has reminded us that the story of the constitutional realisation of women’s socioeconomic rights has yet to be fully written. And she has inspired us to continue — alongside the many women activists currently doing so —to write it.

https://mg.co.za/article/2019-08-23-00-sas-women-are-fighting-for-social-justice-remarkable-women