First published at SaveOurWilderness.org, 21 May 2019, here
On Thursday, 16 May 2019, in the early hours of the morning just before dawn, Mr Gideon Mbongeni Gumede breathed his last. His extended illness, involving pain in his lungs and difficulty breathing was undiagnosed and became increasingly debilitating. He had become critically ill over the weekend and was admitted to Hlabisa Hospital where he died after a few days. His death has cast a dark shadow over Somkhele.
Gideon, as he was known in the community, was loved by many. He was a humble man, respectful and soft spoken; not someone who would immediately be recognised as a brave warrior. Yet a warrior he was and he will be remembered as a hero and a role model of how to stand your ground fearlessly, even in the face of life-threatening situations.
Gideon emerged as a man of courage when Tendele mine expanded into KwaQubuka and identified the Gumede homestead within the mining area granted for their operations. Gideon was told to relocate.
There was no opportunity or right to say no and, as is typical, the mine offered minimal compensation to the family for their houses and built infrastructure, not their land. Tendele also provided no alternative land to move to.
Gideon not only rejected the mine’s offer but he also refused to move, even when the mine started its operations within 300 metres of his home. All the buildings on the property are cracked and several have collapsed from the blasting. It became dangerous to continue living there for fear of flyrock and of the houses collapsing on the people living in them, as has happened to other families in Somkhele.
When the rest of the destitute Gumede family moved off their land, Gideon was left on his own to stand up against ongoing pressure to relocate. Several letters were written by Richard Spoor Attorneys, urging the DMR to step in and assist Mr Gumede.
But to no avail. The mine persisted in its quest to move him of his land, even when he became seriously ill only two weeks ago. Yet through it all, Gideon remained resolute. He was not going to allow leave the Gumede land and leave behind what was rightfully and morally due to him. He stayed on his land in spite of the increased stress he was living under, his inability to grow crops and graze cattle to feed his family and his failing health.
It is very sad that Gideon will not live to see or enjoy the benefits of his determination and courage, unlike Gideon in the Bible, a devout man called by God to become a military leader, judge and prophet, and to fight a courageous battle that resulted in an extraordinary victory. Similarly, the battle in Somkhele and other mining affected communities in South Africa will continue fighting after Gideon’s death until we emerge victorious. We are sorry that the wheels of justice turned too slowly for Mr Gumede and his hopes and dreams for the court case will not be seen by him. In some instances the wheels of justice did not turn at all for our dear comrade.
At this time we also remember other comrades and activists like Mr Gednezar Dladla, Dumesile Mwelasi, Scorpion, and “Bazooka” Sikhosiphi Rhadebe who have given their lives to this struggle.
Gideon’s funeral will be held on the 26th May 2019, at KwaQubuka. His death is a great loss to the Somkhele community as whole, as well as to the Global Environmental Trust (GET), the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA), groundWork and other NGOs who engaged with him over the years. He will be profoundly missed by everyone whose life he touched, including other communities affected by mining.
May he rest in peace at last, free from pain and torment.