Mining communities out in the cold over compensation

WHEN the Mapela community’s long fight with Anglo American Platinum turned violent in September, a new and still unoccupied old-age home donated by the company was one of the buildings that went up in flames.

With it went the sympathy of many who might otherwise have cheered the Limpopo community’s effort to save a school they had built and paid for under apartheid from being buried beneath a mine waste dump.

Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the mining minister at the time, visited Mapela soon after the long-running campaign turned violent and helped negotiate a settlement that saw the threatened Seritarita High School reopened. His intervention doused the flames of protest, but the community has had no sign since his unexplained removal by President Jacob Zuma, barely days later, that the new minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, will pick up where he left off.

The context for the apparently bizarre tactic of destroying a brand-new building in support of a broader fight for a decent share of mining’s riches is laid bare in a report due for first release at next week’s Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

The report by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand confirms the perception among mine-hosting communities that the state’s strategy to democratise the benefits of mining is failing.

Meeting in a working-class district within walking distance of the Investing in African Mining Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, community delegates, researchers and planners at the alternative event will explore life on the wrong side of mining’s self-congratulatory corporate looking glass.

Many will have been sponsored privately to travel by bus and taxi from beyond Pretoria, where the mining actually happens, to share the experience and solidarity of others also hoping to mitigate the destructive effects of mining.

“The legacy of mining in SA is one of stark disparity between mine workers and communities on the one hand, and mining management, financiers and shareholders on the other,” reads the opening lines of the report. That contrast is underlined by the opulence of the main conference, where investors will have paid R30,000 a head for the networking and deal-making opportunities that are the main attraction.

All the community delegates can do at their shadow event is work out how best to live with the mining that will flow from the deals struck over the Champagne and caviar of the main indaba.

Although the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002 nationalised the country’s underground resources and committed to ensuring a more equitable sharing of their benefits, it denies affected communities the right to say no to mining on or under their land.

Instead, it lays the ground for the Mining Charter, which has since set targets for black ownership of mines and demands a plan from each mine on how it will boost the development of affected communities.

The official launch of the centre’s year-long analysis of these social and labour (SLP) plans is March 30, but the researchers have scheduled a limited first release of their findings at the alternative indaba. The report exposes the habit of mining companies deciding with little or no consultation how to compensate host communities for the destruction of their lives and livelihoods.

It also goes some way towards explaining the apparent ingratitude of the Mapela community for the unwanted gift.

Urban executives with an SLP budget to spend may think it obvious that an impoverished village outside Mokopane would want a clean and dry home for their aged relatives. That’s the way it’s done in the suburbs. But to the people of Mapela, where caring for the aged at home is a given, it seemed an arrogant abuse of scarce resources when all the mine owners had to do was ask them what they wanted most.

“Communities have the right to determine their own development agenda, and their opinions must be constructively and effectively considered and incorporated,” the centre says in its analysis of 50 such plans. These are loosely mandated by law as a precondition for the award of a mining licence. More detail about what they should cover is included in nonbinding guidelines last updated in October 2010.

The plans are supposed to ensure development in the areas from which migrant miners mostly come, as well as the mine’s immediate neighbourhood, and the empowerment of mine workers through improved living and learning conditions. Employment, education, development of small businesses, infrastructure improvement and poverty alleviation are among the approved targets.

Given the generally informal nature of most mining areas in the former homelands, however, housing is generally regarded as one of the most important interventions a mine can make. The promise of 5,500 new houses was prominent in Lonmin’s 2006 plan for its Marikana platinum mines near Rustenburg. But by the time of the police massacre of 34 workers there in August 2012, only three had been built.

The report shows that this sort of failure is a pattern across the industry, where initial promises can be downgraded with the permission of the mining minister — and with no notice to the community concerned. It also underlines the almost total lack of transparency in the drafting, execution and monitoring of such plans. The reality is that few communities have ever seen or heard of the plan that is supposed to ensure they are net beneficiaries of the decision to mine on or under their land.

The centre concludes from its research that traditional leaders are most often consulted on ways to mitigate the economic, social and environmental effects of mining. Their advice is usually self-serving, and the benefits frequently flow to them.

“Only 4% of the SLP sample explained how they were influenced by the expressed needs of communities beyond the government and traditional authorities,” the researchers report.

The centre identified seven key areas in which the system is failing:

• Plans are based on incomplete information about the target communities;

• Analysis on which planning is based generally does not reflect the negative effect that mining is likely to have;

• Engagement with the likely effect of mining by race, gender or socioeconomic status is rare;

• Many plans are incomplete or are unsigned;

• The structure of plans is inconsistent and some are illegible;

• Few plans are based on expressed needs of communities; and

• There is no mechanism for mine accountability to communities.

The centre’s report covers the first of three phases of research. Further research will deliver more specific information on implementation and suggestions for improvement.

But, as the report concludes, the work already done shows: “The urgency of achieving social justice in the mining sector requires far-reaching change in which communities and workers must be afforded the space to be central participants.”

This article was first published in Business Day on 05 February 2015

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