On Sunday, 9 July 2017, well over a hundred people gathered at the Dladla homestead in Dubelenkhunzi village, Somkhele, near the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, to attend a commemoration for Mr Gednezar Dladla, the highly respected anti-mining activist, who died on 18 October 2015, a few days before his 60th birthday (on 26 October 2015).
Somkhele, KZN, South Africa –The Ihlambo ceremony performed by Mr Gednezar Dladla’s family is very important in Zulu culture and usually involves slaughtering a cow to honour and acknowledge the spirit of the departed ancestor. Given Dladla’s high standing in the community, the significance of his work and his international stature, two cows were slaughtered.
When Dladla was a young man working in Johannesburg his leadership qualities and strong sense of justice were already evident. Later, when Dladla moved back to his homestead in Dubelenkhunzi, Somkhele, he gained a reputation for his courage as a leader who represented the Somkhele community in challenging corrupt traditional leaders and numerous legal irregularities and human rights violations he witnessed being perpetrated by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd.
Tendele open cast coal mine has been operating in Somkhele since 2004 and boasts about benefitting the community. However, the reality for people who have been relocated by the mine and for most people living in Somkhele, like the Dladlas, is that their livelihoods, health and well-being have been negatively impacted by the mine. They are more impoverished now than before the mine arrived – as is typical of communities affected by mining.
Dladla never wavered from his determination to expose the iniquities of the mine notwithstanding being arrested in 2011 for supposedly holding an illegal community meeting or being disregarded when he complained that the mine was stealing water from the people and polluting streams and groundwater or being ignored when he repeatedly challenged the mine for reneging on agreements with affected families whose ancestral grave had been exhumed.
Mrs Gerlie Dladla led the ceremony and the service was conducted by Reverends Ndlanzi and Msweli, and Shembe Pastor Gina. Dladla was a deeply religious man who took his role of stewardship and responsibility to care for the natural environment very seriously.
Mr Skebhe Dladla welcomed everyone on behalf of the family. Ms Philile Shongwe spoke on behalf of the community; Mrs Getrude Mtshali on behalf of Mtshali families; Lungile Mchunu on behalf of Dladla’s children and grandchildren. Mr Dladla’s widow, Mamtshali, and their son, Thuba, paid emotional tributes to Dladla and pledged that the family would continue his legacy of actively challenging Tendele mine.
Dladla played a significant role in the formation of the Mining and Environmental Justice Communities Network in South Africa (MEJCON). Mr Matome Kapa, MEJCON’s National Co-ordinator, flew from Cape Town to attend the commemoration to acknowledge Mr Gednezar Dladla’s long-standing connection with MEJCON and to pay his respects to the Dladla family.
Ms Sheila Berry spoke on behalf of the Global Environmental Trust (GET) a NGO that has been associated with Dladla and Somkhele since 2011. She mentioned that the London-based Gaia Foundation dedicated its film In Defence of Life to Dladla in honour of his relevant and impressive work. He is featured posthumously in the film.
Billy Mnqondo, representing the neighbouring Fuleni community, spoke on behalf of the Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) and recalled Dladla’s important role and support for the struggle against Ibutho Coal’s proposed Fuleni mine from 2014 up until his death.
Also present at the commemoration was Robby Mokgalaka from groundWork and Sifiso Dladla, ActionAid’s Mining and Extractives Project Manager, in Gauteng. Previously Sifiso Dladla worked as a community activist for GET for several years and developed a close relationship with Mr Dladla. He was often mistaken for one of Dladla’s sons, which Sifiso took as an enormous compliment.
Dladla died before seeing the outcome of his persistent efforts to expose Tendele mine. Currently the South African Human Rights Commission is engaged with the Somkhele community to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by Tendele mine, first reported by Dladla ten years ago. An in-depth investigation is also underway by legal representatives regarding irregularities and lack of compliance of Tendele mine that date back to the start of its operations.