Nonhle Mbuthuma is battling for her community’s right to say no to the exploitation of their territory in a hangover of the apartheid era
As a child, Nonhle Mbuthuma would wake up in her family’s thatched hut listening to the waves crashing on South Africa’s Wild Coast , then go and play on the sand dunes, head off to school or help her parents cultivate sweet potatoes and bananas on the family plot.
Today, she can rarely stay in the same place for any length of time and is more likely to be keeping her ears alert to signs of danger. At times she needs bodyguards or goes into hiding.
“I wake up each morning and thank god I am still alive,” said the Amadiba woman, who has been told she is on a hit list. “I know I am a target. My husband and my family and friends are worried. They tell me to go into hiding. But I can’t do that. It’s not me. I choose this road.”
She is battling for her community’s right to say no to the exploitation of their territory. South African judges have been considering this question since 20 April, when Mbuthuma and her neighbours got their day in court against an Australian mining company that has pushed for access to lucrative titanium deposits discovered in the russet dunes where she used to play.
Defence of this land – located in an ecologically rich coastal region of Pondoland – has pitted Mbuthuma against her tribal chief and the regional government.