Maverick Citizen


Shot 16 times – another land rights activist murdered, this time in mining-affected North West village

Shot 16 times – another land rights activist murdered, this time in mining-affected North West village
Memorial service of slain land rights activist Jomo Keromeng | LHR Manager – Land, Housing and Property Rights, Louise du Plessis speaking at the memorial service of land rights slain activist Jomo Keromeng. | Bishop Paul Verryn speaking at the memorial of slain land rights activist Jomo Keromeng. | Mine signage. (Photos: Sharon Ekambaram)

‘Comrade Jomo was a kind and intelligent man, and one of those exceptional leaders. He paid the ultimate price – his life – in his struggle for justice for all, and fighting for the basic human rights and respect for human dignity of the poor and vulnerable people’ – Lawyers for Human Rights.

On Thursday, 24 August, Lawyers for Human Rights released a statement mourning the loss of land rights activist Jomo Keromeng, who worked as a nursed at Tshwane District Hospital and was from the mining-affected community of Sefikile in Bakgatla Ba Kgafela, North West. Keromeng was shot dead on 15 August in front of his family. His memorial service was on Thursday.

“Comrade Jomo was a kind and intelligent man, and one of those exceptional leaders. LHR has represented the Sefikile community in a number of cases, in their struggles in the heart of the platinum belt. These legal battles that LHR has waged are not only against the owners of the mining companies – the extraction industry – that invades the land belonging to the community, but also against prospective mining companies in the process of obtaining mining rights on land occupied by the community,” read the statement. 

LHR said that they have been embroiled in a legal battle with Kgosi John Pilane, chair of the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela traditional council, who was challenging his removal from office after a commission enquiry found millions unaccounted for in a case of mismanagement of funds and corruption. The statement went on to say: “Although the biggest mining village in the country is on land bought by the Sefikiles, they never benefit from the mining and the community lives in  abject poverty. Jomo was at the forefront in fighting these injustices. He paid the ultimate price – his life – in his struggle for justice for all – and fighting for the basic human rights and respect for human dignity of the poor and vulnerable people.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Investigation into how Siyaya TV took advantage of Bakgatla Ba Kgafela’s fortune

Daily Maverick spoke to two members of the Sefikile community who said that Keromeng was shot 16 times by two men in his house in front of his mother and child, but they did not want to be named or say much more as they feared that they too would be killed. 

Global scourge

Keromeng’s death follows years of activists being killed in cold blood, with little to no action to get justice for their deaths or any measures of protection. In 2021, research by Front Line Defenders (FLD) and the international consortium Human Rights Defenders Memorial revealed that at least 358 human rights defenders had been killed in 35 countries in that year, 60% of whom were land, environment or indigenous rights defenders. 

The intimidation and killing of activists even prompted a report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, to write a report on the need for protection of human rights defenders as well as a letter to the South African government urging action.

Speaking on the first anniversary of slain environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase, Lawlor said: “Fikile’s murder is demonstrative of a global trend where human rights defenders are threatened and killed for their work”. She also said the threats were intended to silence and intimidate them from carrying out their work.

Advocate and human rights activist Mary de Haas told Daily Maverick:

“There is lots of rhetoric but no commitment to human rights in South Africa. Human rights are breached all the time… Something must be done about our Chapter 9 institutions who fail to do their jobs properly. They are wasting money better spent on funding good lawyers for victims including of torture and land disposession. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: GroundUp: Mining communities slam government’s ‘elite deal’ with Chamber of Mines

“We are very grateful for the legal firms that are assisting communities to protect their land and environmental rights… We need more… ensuring protection is an ongoing struggle as often police are in the pockets of traditional leadership who are pro-mining.

“Far more must be done to improve rural safety. It doesn’t help that crime intelligence services are largely dysfunctional hence armed hitmen are easily accessed and tend to operate with impunity… The threat of violence is a powerful weapon used by those supporting mining. Violence fuelled by false information about those opposing mining putting people out of work. Mining brings relatively few jobs for locals, far more jobs and sustainable jobs would be created by farming and tourism and environmental work.”

The NGOs Mining Affected Communities United in Action (Macua) and Women Affected by Mining United in Action (Wamua), who have also been involved in the fight for mining affected communities to get just compensation, said they were “saddened and concerned about the murder of yet another land rights activist”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mining-affected communities protest outside Parliament demanding greater development

“Such acts of violence can have a chilling effect on community activism and discourage individuals from advocating for their rights. Such acts of violence, which are often instigated by mining companies who use money to bribe activists and community members to act in their interest and against the interests of the community. We have seen this too often, and we have previously submitted a petition to Parliament calling on them to investigate the way that mining companies are instigating violence against activists.

“It is important for the police and Parliament to thoroughly investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zululand community members blockade roads, telling India’s Jindal Steel & Power to ‘voetsek’

According to LHR’s land, housing and property rights manager, Louise du Plessis, Keromeng’s death is closely linked to tensions between the Sefikile community and Pilane because he was very knowledgeable and outspoken about issues of mining rights and procurement contracts. 

“The impact of Jomo’s death will be massive…if activists will now be too scared to act, civil society will  fall flat. Communities are facing various human rights violations from harassment, to health issues as a result of the impact of mining as well as being killed. We must find ways to protect activists,” she told Daily Maverick. DM


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