The award seeks to recognize an individual or organization working in any of the 16 Southern Africa region – who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to human rights defending. Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) are continuously under pressure globally, it’s never been more important to raise the profile and honor the work, of brave women and men around the world fighting to promote human dignity usually at great personal risk.

The award for Human Rights Defender of the Year aims to publicly recognise the crucial work of HRDs in Southern Africa who have demonstrated courage and impact in the promotion and protection of human rights during the period of the year. The award ceremony is held annually since 2018. 

Previous Recipients of the Award include:


Mama Fikile Nsthangase


Fikile Ntshangase was a grassroots woman human rights defender who was shot and killed on 22 October 2020 in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, at her home in front of her grandson and his friend, while she was preparing dinner.

Ma’am Ntshangase was 63 years old at the time of her death, and she was the deputy chairperson of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), a grassroots-based organisation that is resolutely fighting against the expansion of the Tendele Coal Mining’s operations in Kwazulu Natal.

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The MCEJO Community has been fighting for years to keep the lush beauty of the area pristine,
and Fikile has been very instrumental in fighting for the rights of those affected and resisting
against any inducements that the mining company and some authorities wanted to provide to
community members to surrender their indigenous land. Even when tensions grew in the MCEJO Community with the mining company and authorities causing divisions within members of the community with financial inducements and promises of jobs, Fikile never backed down and she was committed to fighting for the interests of everyone.
She fought with integrity and understood the importance of fighting for the land and identity of herself and her people. Before her death, she had said to her lawyer, “I cannot sell out my people and if need be, I will die for my people.”
To Fikile, fighting for the people of the MCEJO Community and resisting against a coal mine displayed her commitment and value to protecting ancestral connections, the importance of protecting the environment in times where it seems to be neglected the most and saving the precious land for future generations to come.
She was a grandmother and a women human rights defender who believed in the leadership of women and she was never afraid to fight against the oppression of people.


Samantha "Gonyeti" Kuraya


Samantha ‘Gonyeti’ Kureya is a comedian, political satirist and presenter. She works with Bustop Tv in Harare and uses satirical skits as a commentary on human interest issues and to initiate dialogue. She also presents short news episodes that capture marginalised voices and marginalised issues and marginalised communities. Gonyeti uses her also satire in her stand-up comedy performances. Gonyeti together with her partner Sharon ‘Magi’ Chideu are considered Zimbabwe’s top comedians.

Gonyeti has risked her life on so many occasions. She has said the things that no ordinary person in Zimbabwe can say freely using satire. She is a promoter of freedom of speech and a role model of many women and satirists in Zimbabwe.

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Her efforts need rewarding in being a voice of the voiceless and defending the rights of the people. It is hoped that the award will be an inspiration to other activists. Human rights abusers need to have an understanding of how much negative impact the have on the fabric of society. This award is an inspiration to Samantha herself to keep going and it is an assurance to her that her work and efforts are not going unnoticed. With the horrible attacks that she has gone through, psychologically and mentally, it is hoped that this award can heal and strengthen her. By just the thought of how she was completely naked in front of six men who had abducted her from her home and taken her to the bush and being forced to drink contaminated sewage water, she indeed deserves this award as it shows that her work is getting home and speaking to power.

In August 2019 Samantha Kureya was abducted, beaten, stripped naked and forced to drink sewage water because of the work that she does. Her abductors ambushed her at her house in Harare and they told her that they would put a bullet in her mother’s scull if she reports. This is not the first time that she was ambushed. Gonyeti and Magi were arrested in February 2019 for acting in a skit with uniforms that resembled police uniforms. Gonyeti was again taken from her house for this case. In September 2017, Gonyeti and the Bustop Tv crew were expelled from a ZANU PF youth rally in Bindura and had their press cards confiscated. The ZANU PF’s youth said Gonyeti and the Bustop Tv were giving their party and the then first lady, Grace Mugabe, negative coverage. Interestingly Gonyeti has faced negative feedback from some quarters in the opposition party’s as well as her satire speaks to power irrespective of political affiliation


Father Padre Jacinto Pio Wacussanga


Father Jacinto Pio Wacussanga, the Angola based grass roots HRD has defended the rights of others mainly vulnerable communities for many decades. His focus is on rural areas that have been traditional marginalised for so long. He helps bridge the gap in the Human Rights movement (HRM) and social movements given that community leaders are not always seen as HRDs as a result of the way the HRM has evolved and is funded.

His recognition through this Award also helps to bridge the divide that has made Lusophone HRDs not receive as much recognition as HRDs from other regions in Africa. We are sorry that he has fought for human rights at great personal sacrifice and not received proper recognition until he is now in a poor state of health.