Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

Human rights lawyer Christof Heyns dies unexpectedly: tributes pour in

March 30, 2021

On 28 March 2021, respected human rights lawyer Professor Christof Heyns passed away, unexpectedly, aged 62.  

Most recently, Professor Heyns was the was the Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria, and had also served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 to 2016. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/dfa7df54-3cb2-465c-9655-d139b5486591.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/30/christof-heyns-discusses-new-un-comment-on-right-of-peaceful-assembly/

His friends and colleagues pay tribute to a giant of global human rights: 

The Centre for Human Rights CHR, in its tribute, called him their “founding father, a trail-blazer, and a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. He was our dynamic initiator-in-chief. He played a pioneering role in positioning the Centre as a pan-African centre of excellence. Constantly brimming with new ideas and grand schemes, plans and projects, he propelled the Centre into new directions and challenged it to explore different dimensions.  “To Christof, if something could be conceived, it could be achieved.”

On Monday, the CHR created a memorial page on Facebook in his memory which, within hours, contained hundreds of entries from all over the world. The reactions registered on Facebook, on WhatsApp groups and emails speak volumes about how highly Heyns the man, the mentor, the “rock star” and the lawyer was regarded.

Arnold Tsunga, chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

“The sudden demise of Professor Christof Heyns is a real tragedy to us as a community of human rights activists in southern Africa. As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee his contribution to production of General Comment Number 37 on the right to peaceful assembly is invaluable at a time when we are experiencing democratic regression and authoritarian consolidation globally. He is irreplaceable and shall be sorely missed. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

Raenette Taljaard, former politician and independent analyst

“Prof Christof Heyns was one of South Africa and the world’s great thought leaders and moral authorities on human rights. Beyond his contribution to academia, his work as a UN Special Rapporteur stands as a towering tribute to the right to life in a world where algorithms and lethal autonomous weapons can make life and death decisions that are core to who we are as humanity. His work will live on in the many principled human rights fighters and public intellectuals that have had the privilege to encounter him and to be mentored by him. He will be greatly missed.”

Jason Brickhill, human rights lawyer and former director of the Constitutional Litigation Unit at the Legal Resources Centre 

“So very shocked and sad to hear that Christof Heyns has passed on. Such a gentle, wise and self-deprecating soul. I was lucky to be taught by him (about the African regional human rights system) and he supervised my master’s dissertation just over a decade ago.  “He did so much to advance human rights in very real, meaningful ways, especially with his work on the African regional system (he was a true pan-Africanist!) and on the right to life at the UN.  “He shared with me and other classmates his ‘struggle approach’ to human rights, which is still the foundation for how I think about the law’s role in the world. We will remember you, Christof, and carry with us the ideas that you shared.”

Faranaaz Veriava, head of the Basic Education Rights programme at SECTION27

“Around 1995 I was young and green in my first job, working in the Idasa Pretoria office. Ivor Jenkins, our director, talked me into meeting with a Moroccan delegation visiting the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria to discuss human rights law. Prof Christof Heyns hosted the delegation. I was probably terrible in that meeting but Prof Heyns was warm and encouraging and I became very interested in the work of the Centre. The next year I registered in the LLM programme at the centre which was a pioneering programme at the time for students all over Africa interested in human rights law. Later I would teach annually in that same programme. Much later, complete my doctorate through the UP law school and then teach at the law school myself. If Ivor Jenkins had not thrown me in at the deep end that day, I wonder if I would have any history with UP – a historically Afrikaans university – and that is now such a positive part of my life. RIP Prof Heyns, a warm and inspiring man and pioneer in human rights law.”

Alice Brown, former resident coordinator, Ford Foundation

“What sad news. I met Christof in the late 1980s through my work with the Ford Foundation. Christof was an innovative human rights academic who was a trailblazer for a number of important rights-focused training programs. In addition, in all my interactions with him over the years, I found him to be a very decent human being.”

Thuli Madonsela, former Public Protector, current law trust chair in social justice, University of Stellenbosch

“What a sad occasion. He was such a mensch, resolutely devoted to developing leaders to advance democracy and human rights in this continent. “The news of the passing of Christof Heyns hit me like a ton of bricks. I have known Christof for all my grown-up life.  “A quintessential professional, Christoff invested a lot in developing leaders that are anchored in a sound knowledge and values system regarding human rights and democracy. He was passionate about the African continent and building scholarship in the continent on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  “The country, the continent and the entire world is poorer because of Christof Heyns’ untimely passing, yet richer because of the legacy he leaves behind. It is said leaders do not die, they multiply. Christof leaves pieces of himself among the many scholars he nurtured and policymakers he touched. May his great soul Rest In Peace.” Christof Heyns and the Outlaws — the rock and roll band of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria. Formed in 2007, they always played at the annual Faculty Festival. (Photo: Yolanda Booyzen)

Bongani Majola, Chairperson of the SA Human Rights Commission

“We deeply mourn the untimely passing of Prof Christof Heyns, a giant in the promotion of human rights. Empowering young people has always been his passion. I first met him in the late 1980s/early 1990s when he and I ran a project that sought to open opportunities for final-year law students from the then historically black universities to find placements in commercial law firms. At the time, it was hard for many black law graduates to be admitted to articles of clerkship and even harder – almost impossible to get placed in commercial law firms. 

“Another empowerment project that Christof Heyns employed significantly to empower the youth was the moot court competitions that he and his colleagues took beyond the borders of South Africa, the borders of SADC and beyond the boundaries of the African continent. Recently, he had taken the promotion of human rights to schools in the basic education environment, a project that he passed on to the South African Human Rights Commission once it had taken a firm hold among basic education schools. 

“He was a visionary who believed in investing in the youth in order to build a strong human rights culture. The country has lost a true human rights activist. He will be sorely missed.”

Edwin Cameron, former Constitutional Court judge

Really terribly shocked and saddened by Christof’s sudden death yesterday. He was a meticulous, conscientious, persistent, courageous fighter for justice and human rights.

Rose Hanzi, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

“Very very sad. Prof Heyns raised the African continent high with his contributions at the ACHPR [African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights] and UN.”

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International 

“So saddened to learn of the death of Prof Christof Heyns. Many of you may know him. He was my teacher and I suspect a few others on this group. What a dedicated Human Rights Activist he was. Beyond teaching, he will be remembered for drafting the General Comment on Freedom of Assembly … he was until his death after a heart attack while hiking a member of the HRC. MHSRIP”

Steven LB Jensen, Danish Institute for Human Rights

“Oh no, this is so sad and shocking news. I met him twice – first in Lund for a two-hour conversation just the two of us and again at the Danish Institute for a meeting on collaborations between our institutions. He was a wonderful person and so easy to engage with. He will be sorely missed by many all around the world.” DM/MC

From Amnesty International staff:

Dr. Agnès Callamard, the new Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “Christof Heyns was a brilliant human rights lawyer and thinker, gentle person…He leaves behind such an extraordinary legacy.” 

Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said: “A mighty baobab has fallen! The untimely death of renowned human rights law expert, Professor Christof Heyns, is a devastating loss. In Africa the Baobab Tree is considered a symbol of power, longevity, presence, strength and grace. Professor Heyns was a baobab in the human rights world. A giant in his field, he fought hard for a just world. As Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, he was involved in a number of critical initiatives. His contributions included: Chair of the UN independent investigation on Burundi, leading on the drafting of UN human rights guidelines on peaceful assembly and the use of less lethal weapons. He also served as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Hamba Kahle Professor Heyns, Ke a Leboga, Enkosi, Ngiyabonga, Thank you for your service to humanity. You have left indelible footprints and we salute you!”

Sam Dubberley, Amnesty International’s Head of Crisis Evidence Lab, said: “Christof’s support for establishing a hub of Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria was unequivocal. He gave time, advice and space for this project to emerge, and welcomed the Amnesty team on every visit to Pretoria despite his always frantic schedule. Christof made everyone feel valued, and was a source of energy and sage advice. How he will be missed.” 

Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director of Amnesty International, said: “Words fail me to express the profound sense of loss with the sudden passing of Professor Heyns. Like many, I had the privilege of working with him and benefited much from his wisdom, mentorship and guidance. He was a rare breed, one of Africa’s great legal minds, a passionate human rights defender and a kind, passionate, humble person. He nurtured and cultivated a cadre of human rights experts and activists in Africa, including by transforming the human rights centre at the University of Pretoria into a world class institution that produced Africa’s leading human rights scholars and practitioners. His publications on various human rights issues in leading academic journals are testament to his brilliance, wisdom and dedication. He was a true pan-Africanist, as exemplified in his work to champion and strengthen the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. His passing is also a great loss to Amnesty International. As [recently] as last week we were working with Professor Heyns on the draft report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the use of force by law enforcement officials in Africa. We shall strive to ensure his last vision [is seen] to fruition. Rest in peace dear brother!”

Rasha Abdul-Rahim, Director of Amnesty Tech, said: “It was devastating to hear of the passing of Professor Heyns. All my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. Not only was Christof a renowned human rights expert, he was fiercely justice-focused and an absolute joy and pleasure to work with. Christof wrote the seminal Human Rights Council report that put the human rights risks of autonomous weapons systems on the agenda. He was always extremely generous with his expertise and time. This is a huge loss for the human rights movement, and we will miss him deeply.” 

Avner Gidron, Senior Policy Adviser on Amnesty International’s Law and Policy Programme, said: “I worked most closely with Professor Heyns on The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death in 2016. It’s a practical tool for human rights defenders and advocates around the world seeking accountability for unlawful killings; and it is now a small, but important, part of Christof’s vast legacy. As well as his importance as a brilliant legal mind, scholar and activist, I will remember Christof for actually embodying human rights values: being an incredibly warm, generous and considerate human being. His death is a tremendous loss for the human rights movement, and an unimaginable tragedy for his family and friends.”

Simon Crowther, legal advisor at Amnesty International, said: “Christof was a legal giant who approached his work with kindness, humility, humour and immense intelligence. He will be greatly missed.” 

Anja Bienert, Senior Programme Officer at Amnesty International Netherlands, said: “I first met Christof in 2013 and immediately felt connected to him: his sharp mind, the careful and perfectly articulated thoughts on the many pressing human rights issues, but more importantly, his warm and welcoming personality, with whom it was a pleasure to discuss. Since then, he was an ongoing source of inspiration to me and a great ally in the fight for greater protection of human rights. He constantly strove not just to write excellent publications, but to have a real impact for the respect of human rights across the world. We will miss him incredibly. It will be our mission to uphold his great legacy in the field of human rights.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/christof-heyns-tribute/

Kristin Kallesen: another human rights defender victim of a SLAPP

March 16, 2021

I have blogged about Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits before [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/] and am grateful for alert reader Eddie Laurijsen (former ICFTU and ILO official) to have drawn my attention to this piece by Sheree Bega on 1 March 2021 in the Mail & Guardian:

Century Property Developments and Riversands Developments are suing Kristin Kallesen and her nonprofit, Greater Equestrian Kyalami Conservancy (Gecko), for the income they have allegedly lost because of objections raised by her and Gecko against development approvals in and adjoining the conservancy.

A Johannesburg environmentalist and the conservancy she runs have been slapped with a R197-million lawsuit by two property developers after raising what they allege are “obstructive, delaying and frustrating” objections to their projects in Riversands and Helderfontein.

Century Property Developments and Riversands Developments are suing Kristin Kallesen and her nonprofit, Greater Kyalami Conservancy (Gekco), for the income they have allegedly lost because of objections raised by her and Gekco against development approvals in and adjoining the conservancy.

Kallesen said she and Gekco could not comment at this stage and are seeking legal advice from the Centre for Environmental Rights.

Helen Duigan, of Action for Responsible Management of Our Rivers, said Kallesen’s objections were made in terms of her rights as an interested and affected party. 

This threat against Kirstin and Gekco should be opposed vehemently,” said Duigan. “Gekco has been a bulwark against unremitting pressure from development, pushing the urban boundary further and further into natural areas that include essential wetlands and threatened species such as grass owls.

Developers too often use, “for their own profit”, ecosystem services that residents have conserved for many years at their own cost, she said. “In their advertising, developers glorify the open space, the lovely views, the fresh air — which the development tends to destroy.”

In legal papers, the developers say that Kallesen and Gekco have “abused” the statutory objection and public participation procedures because “frivolous and baseless” objections were filed against all the township applications by both defendants, none of which were upheld by the City of Johannesburg.

This, the developers allege, was to “procure delays”, prevent the developers from developing the properties and cause financial harm.

“The defendants, similarly, for the same reason, abused the statutory appeal procedures provided for in the prevailing town planning legislation and have lodged several entirely unsubstantiated and mala fide appeals against the decisions of the municipality, by virtue of which such townships have been approved. 

“Not a single one of such appeals lodged by or on behalf of the defendants have been upheld by the municipal appeal tribunal.”

The financial harm, the developers allege, includes the extension of the holding cost period in respect of such properties before these could be developed in terms of the approved township applications; the continuous escalation of construction costs to be incurred for the development of such properties; the extended period to which the developers were obliged to pay assessment rates charged by the municipality and interest on such amounts as well as the loss of rental income from the delayed occupation of developed structures.”

For Duigan, the lawsuit is a stark reminder of the Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit brought in 2005 against five members of the Rhenosterspruit Conservancy, now proclaimed as the Crocodile River Reserve, by Robbie Wray, the developer of Blair Atholl Estate.

“We were sued for R210-million — my share was R45-million. The case was concluded in December 2010 with the developer given short shrift, with costs at the maximum level against him.”

This was the first major SLAPP suit in South Africa, garnering astounding publicity, particularly after the verdict, she said. “It clearly struck a nerve nationally and we were bombarded by calls and letters from people who had been threatened by developers, warning them that they would be dealt with in the same way as the Rhenosterspruit Five. This made people realise that they could oppose intimidation tactics from developers.”

In early February, the high court in Cape Town held that a series of defamation lawsuits totalling R14.25-million brought by the Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd, and its local subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources, against three environmental lawyers, two activists and a social worker who criticised its operations is an abuse of legal process.

https://mg.co.za/environment/2021-03-01-property-developers-slap-joburg-environmentalist-and-conservancy-with-r197m-lawsuit/

UN Spotlight on Killing of South African Environmental Defender Mama Fikile

March 16, 2021

.On 15 March 2021 Katharina Rall, Senior Researcher, Environment and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch, wrote about Mama Fikile’s murder, It is almost five months since an environmental activist, Mama Fikile Ntshangase, was gunned down in her home in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province, after raising concerns about a coal mine in the area. No arrests have been made. Mama Fikile had received threats to her life but carried on with what she perceived to be the only way to protect her community’s health and livelihood.

On March 3, the UN expert on human rights defenders used Mama Fikele’s story to begin a new report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that highlights the risks many environmental defenders operate under, and the widespread attempts to silence their voices.

South African environmental justice groups have urged the government to carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into Mama Fikile Ntshangase’s killing and ensure that those found responsible are held to account. But her family is still waiting for justice.

Beyond the individual tragedy and injustice, there is another reason the UN expert, Mary Lawlor, highlights the South African case in her global report. Killings of activists create an environment of fear and can have a chilling effect on the people around them. Or, as the UN expert frames it, “[t]here is no more direct attack on civil society space than the killing of human rights defenders.

As a community rights defender opposing coal mining in Fuleni, a small rural village not far from the place where Mama Fikile was killed, Billy Mnqondo once heard gunshots at the gate of his house and was warned by community members that he and his family will be in trouble if he continues to oppose mining. When, in 2018, Human Rights Watch visited Somkhele, Fuleni, and other communities affected by mining, some activists confirmed they were afraid to speak out about the impact of mining in their community, especially after Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, another prominent environmental rights defender, was killed in Xolobeni in 2016.

Violence and intimidation against those who raise their voices to defend their right to a healthy environment is endemic in South Africa.  Human Rights Watch, in its 2019 report, published jointly with groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, and Earthjustice,  documented how activists in mining-affected communities across the country have experienced threats, physical attacks, or property damage that they believe is retaliation for their activism. Most of these cases are not widely known and have not made headlines like the killings of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe and Mama Fikile. Yet, investigations into these killings or other attacks are moving very slowly, if at all. 

Other, less brutal ways to silence the voices of environmental rights defenders are nuisance lawsuits, known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs) – baseless cases brought forward by companies to intimidate and burden activists with the onerous costs of mounting a legal defense.

South African courts are beginning to take a stance against these tactics. In February, the High Court in Cape Town issued a ruling that strengthens the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court held that a defamation suit brought by an Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), and its local subsidiary against three attorneys, two activists, and a social worker in relation to their statements about its operations is an abuse of legal process. The defamation trial may still proceed, but activists can now defend themselves by arguing that the Court should assess the SLAPP nature of the case.

Following this ruling it will be harder for corporations to use South Africa’s legal system against citizens and activists to silence and intimidate them when they raise human rights concerns or seek accountability for past abuses. The government should now do its part to follow the recommendations of the UN expert by bringing those responsible for killings of environmental defenders to justice. Unless there are prompt, effective, and impartial investigations into the killings—and those responsible are brought to justice— human rights defenders will continue to live in an environment of fear.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/15/un-spotlight-killing-south-african-environmental-defender

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/