Early Sunday morning, 25th February 2018, Bongani Pearce, an activist well-known in Somkhele for challenging Tendele Coal Mining, woke up to the gruesome find of a dead cat’s body in the middle of his yard. While he was still in shock about the dead cat, he noticed that two wooden trusses supporting the roof in the front of his house had been burnt.
The matter was reported to the police, who came and investigated the scene before opening a case of arson. Security has been put in place to protect the family.
Bongani and other community leaders believe the attack on Sunday is linked to letters written by Tendele mine management, and sent to mine workers, contractors and traditional leaders. On 14 December 2017, the CEO, Jan du Preez wrote a letter to the Chief and other influential members of the community mentioning Bongani Pearce by name as one of three people spreading “rumours and false information and half-truths …. all fighting to close the Mine”. He also threatened Bongani in December 2016 stating that by opposing the mine he “would be starting a war, and are you ready for this?”
A few days before Sunday’s attack Jarmi Steyn, Tendele’s Chief Operational Officer, sent out a letter dated 21 February 2018. The letter forewarns employees and sub-contractors that future bonuses are unlikely to be paid because the mine is not doing well and also that their employment is threatened “because of a few community members who choose to stand in the way of future development, and huge economic and social investment and upliftment in the Community.”
In reality, there are over 600 members of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) in Somkhele who support MCEJO’s High Court application challenging the legality of the mine for having no environmental authorisation and no waste management licence. There is also strong opposition from communities targeted for relocation that are refusing to move.
The Somkhele community are not alone in their determination to have their voices heard. Like the Pondo people who have opposed titanium dune mining for almost 20 years, the residents of Somkhele are rural farmers who live off the land, where their ancestors are buried. Their way of life is rooted in their land. Those who are still fortunate to be able to farm, live well and refuse to move and make way for a polluting coal mine that destroys their farm and grazing land, pollutes their water and covers their vegetation and homes with coal dust, bringing respiratory diseases that they have to pay for, not the mine.
This is not the first time Bongani has been targeted for opposing the mine. In 2016, his vehicle was set alight the night after a community march he organised under the auspices of the Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA) which he co-founded and chairs. He has also received several death threats.
Bongani, other activists and community members refuse to be intimidated or dissuaded from fighting for environmental, economic and social justice. We stand with them in solidarity and so do many others, not only in Somkhele but far afield. We draw strength from their courage and from knowing we are not alone!