Introducing… From The Front

Over the next two years, our new series will explore pathways to peace and environmental protection.

Photo by Fred Murphy is licensed under CC BY-ND-NC 1.0.

‘I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.’ These are the words of 65-year-old Fikile Ntshangase, shortly before she was shot dead by four gunmen at her home, in front of her 11-year-old grandson, on October 2020.

Ntshangase was a key activist in the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), a group taking legal action against the owners of the Somkhele opencast coal mine, on the border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 

Local people have documented coal dust pollution of land, air and water, as well as the added pressure the mine’s operations put on the water supply. If the mine’s expansion goes ahead, around 200 families could be moved from their ancestral lands. Families who are part of the legal action against Tendele Coal Mining, the owners of Somkhele mine, have reportedly received death threats and had gunshots fired at their homes. 

Ntshangase is also said to have had threats made against her life before she was assassinated. Nobody has been held accountable for her murder. Tendele Coal have publicly condemned it.

At least 331 human rights defenders, including Ntshangase, were killed last year. Over two-thirds were working on land, indigenous peoples and environmental rights issues. These are people who are threatening the might of states, corporations and wealth in order to stand up for the planet and those who inhabit it.

Funded by the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation, our new series will be telling stories from frontlines like these throughout 2021 and 2022. Building on decades of New Internationalist work – including magazines on peacebuilding and how to avoid climate breakdown – we will publish fresh perspectives on conflict and environmental damage and document radical alternatives to the status quo, particularly in the Global South. 

From The Front will cover the underlying causes of violent conflict and the conditions that contribute to global environmental breakdown. It will explore ways these things could be prevented or resolved, as well as the connections between them.

We will be publishing new articles every month and organizing online events for people to come together and have important conversations about peace and environmental protection. From peacebuilding projects, to community struggles against devastating resource extraction; alternatives to the police and armed forces to forced migration triggered by climate change – as well as the changes in national and international policy which could make a difference. 

Already we’ve heard how environmental activists in Kenya and beyond could use an international ecocide law; how citizens in Fukushima are developing alternatives to show that nuclear power and fossil fuels are not the only way; and how Italian dock workers have refused to take part in the arms trade supply chain.

Right now it feels like the world is at a crossroads as multiple crises and instability threaten to plunge people into deepening hunger, runaway climate change, violence and the erosion of civil rights – not to mention a pandemic which shows no sign of disappearing. Across the world people are taking to the streets to say that they’ve had enough. But from Myanmar to Colombia, they are often being met with intense repression. It’s a crucial time for movements and initiatives working for a more habitable world – up against immense obstacles. 

We would love to hear from our readers about what they think we should be covering in From The Front. Get in touch with New Internationalist Co-editor Amy Hall on amy.hall[at]newint[dot]org.