Ntombenhle Nene with Mlindeli Ndimande, her close friend, colleague and brother in the struggle against ZAC mine

“There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.” Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

The unexpected death of Ntombenhle Nene from meningitis, on 15 August 2021, came as a great shock to those privileged to know her. The day before she died Mlindeli Ndimande, her close friend, colleague and brother wrote: “She’s a fighter. She’s so determined in all she does. I trust and pray she’s going to get through this.” Sadly, she lost her valiant struggle against this ruthless adversary and in the early hours of Sunday morning she breathed her last.

Ntombenhle was a fierce advocate for environmental and social justice, which was not immediately apparent. Her quiet unassuming manner and selflessness hid a burning passion for the natural environment, which she understood was the foundation for the well-being of all life. She was also fully committed to improving the lives of people in her community and deeply distressed by the hardships and injustices that residents have been subjected to since the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) started its underground coal mining operations in the area, in 1987.

The death of Ntombenhle is an enormous loss to the community of Okhukho, near Ulundi, KZN, where she has been actively engaging with other activists in the area to raise their complaints and grievances and make ZAC aware of its negative impacts on the environment and the residents. One of the most destructive impacts of the mine is the drying up of perennial rivers and several streams that residents relied on for water for generations. The loss of the Vale River near Ntombenhle’s family homestead has had major implications for the people of Okhukho, their livestock, wildlife, and the surrounding environment. For many this has meant the end of their livelihoods as small-scale farmers and of any hope of an independent source of income. Many families are now solely dependent on government grants to survive and out this meagre money they are forced to buy water at exorbitant rates.

Ntombenhle’s commitment to conserving precious water ideally suited her position as a contractor with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to clear thirsty invasive alien plants inside the neighbouring Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) as well as outside the Park. She considered it an honour to be doing this work.

Though Ntombenhle did not live to see the results of her many endeavours, her fighting spirit is with us and strengthens our determination to ensure that the struggle she was part of continues…. and ultimately is won. We do this is the name and memory of Ntombenhle Nene.


  1. Allimuthu Perumal

    Condolonces to the family – i have not met her but reading a bit she was indeed a champion.

    Champions dont die .

  2. Please accept the condolances of Marco and mine. To lose anyone so young and full of life and environmental spirit remains one of the hardest happenings to accept, when others remaining have to continue without.
    We feel your loss and wish you courage and strength in the challenging times ahead.
    Many hugs for family and loved ones.

  3. Mrs Lynne Hannah

    It is terribly sad to hear the passing away of Ntombenhle, I feel very sorry for all the folk she left behind, her family and friends. It really is awful that her voice was never heard by the Colliery management and the folk whose voices are ignored. I cannot believe how this Govt seems to ignore the pleas from their own people !

  4. it is amazimg how many people, individually, are attempting to stop the rot of Government inefficency and dishonesty, each in her or his own way .
    We must keep going for the sake of our country and its people.

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