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Somkhele coal mine owned by Tendele, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Tendele’s coal mine leaves local communities without water. It was denounced by the South African Human Rights Commission, WoMin, The Women’s Water Assembly, for its human rights and environmental violations. Murder of local environmental activist.


The open cast coal mine in Somkhele has been operating since 2007 in the uMkhanyakude District (one of the 11 districts of the KwaZulu-Natal Province). This district is known for its lack of hydraulic resources and its poor delivery services of water and sanitation. This situation is worse in the Mtubatuba area because the Somkhele mine uses underground water to wash the coal, increasing the area’s water scarcity. The Somkhele open cast coal mine is only 10 kilometers upstream from Mtubatuba on the  Mfolozi river as well as the proposed Fuleni mine (see case on the EJAtlas) opposed by locals. The mine operated without a water use license until August 2014. It was therefore violating national mining and water use laws during its first 8 years. Numerous communities of the uMkhanyakude District suffer water shortages, whereas the Department of Water Affairs removed five water tankers by the beginning of 2016 with no explanation. Early in 2016, the kwaMsani township was left without water for weeks.  Residents had to either travel more than 2 kilometers to collect water from a communal water tap or to buy it from private dealers, including smugglers selling illegal water from the dry Mfolozi river.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Somkhele coal mine owned by Tendele, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:KwaZulu-Natal Province
Location of conflict:Somkhele, Mtubatuba
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal
Anthracite, a pure form of coal
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The coal mine's first plant entered into operation by 2007. Since 2013, the mine relies on three plants, being the largest mine in South Africa of metallurgical anthracite, an energy rich type of coal. For the year 2013/14, 1,1 million tonnes of coal were extracted. The coal both feeds South African national industry and it is exported. The Petmin Group claims that the mine provides jobs for hundreds of local inhabitants.

Project area:22,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/2010
Company names or state enterprises:Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd from South Africa - legal owners of the Somkhele mine
Petmin Group from South Africa - Tendele is a subsidary of Petmin Group
Relevant government actors:Umkhanyakude District Municipality. South African Human Rights Commission. Department of Water Affairs. Mpukunyoni Traditional Council. Ministry of Water and Environmental Affairs.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA).
groundWork (Friends of the Earth S.A.).
Center for Environmental Rights (CER).
Global Environmental Trust.
Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (“MCEJO”).
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Regional networks: WoMin
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Desertification/Drought, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Soil contamination, Mine tailing spills, Air pollution
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Other Environmental impactsmine's blasts, sick cattle from polluted water
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Accidents
Other Health impactsDiseases provoked by polluted water, health potential health risks caused by airborne pollutants.
Violent intimidation of families living on ancestral land and activists
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Other socio-economic impacts72 households have been moved from the KwaQubuka area
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Proposal and development of alternatives:The local impacted communities ask for the closure of the coal mine, to protect and preserve water resources for socially and ecologically sustainable livelihoods.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:No changes to improve the local communities' access to clean water and a safe environment. Land grabbing for anthracite mining by the mining company is going on.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

National Water Act (1998)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Melissa Hansen, Bandile Mdlalose, Anti-extractivist feminist politics in KwaZulu-Natal, June 2015
[click to view]

[1] Mia Moorcroft, High court brings order to mine, Zululand Observer, December 18, 2016
[click to view]

[2] Maggie Hazvinei Mapondera, Our Lives Do Matter! Women Fight for Water in Somkhele and Fuleni!, August 29, 2016
[click to view]

[3] Tamlyn Jolly, Women unite against coal mining, Zululand Observer, January 30, 2015
[click to view]

[4] Thami Magubane, Drought-Hit Residents Forced to Buy ‘Illegal’ Water, IOL, 17/11/2016
[click to view]

[5] Women Stand their Ground against Big Coal Southern African Exchange, January 15, 2015
[click to view]

[6] Somkhele Mine, Petmin official Website
[click to view]

[7] Tamlyn Jolly, Fed-up with living in close proximity to Somkhele mine, Mpukunyoni communities seek closure of the mine, June 3rd, 2016
[click to view]

[8] S.A. coal communities meet at KZN coal hotspot - National coal communities exchange organised by groundWork, 21 September 2016
[click to view]

[9] Tamlyn Jolly, Potential human rights violations in Somkhele and Fuleni, June 21, 2016
[click to view]

[10] Activists lose bid to shut down coal mine, November 21, 2018
[click to view]

[11] Mail&Guardian. Murder of anti-mining activist emboldens KZN community (Koko 2020)
[click to view]

[12] Daily Maverick. Violence on border of iMfolozi-Hluhluwe game park linked to fears of mass retrenchments (Kockott & Hattingh 2020)
[click to view]

[13] Save our Wilderness. The killing of Somkhele environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase (2020)
[click to view]

[14] Zukiswa Pikoli, Remembering Fikile Ntshangase, a fearless environmental activist, Daily Maverick, October 21, 2021
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Faith ka-Manzi & Patrick Bond, Women from KwaZulu-Natal’s mining war zone stand their ground against big coal, EJOLT Report
[click to view]

Standoff between Somkhele Coal Mine, Mpukunyoni community
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Camila Rolando Mazzuca, updated by Dalena Tran
Last update27/10/2020
Conflict ID:2572
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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