Mining – how civil society sees it

– By Martine Roberts –

While the global elite of mining professionals gathered for their annual Mining Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from the  1st – 4th of Feb 2010, a network of civil society organisations, including Idasa, hosted an Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) of their own.

The Mining Indaba attracts mining analysts and investors as well as government actors from around the world to discuss the newest developments in the industry. Attendance is limited to professional investors and the industry, effectively excluding the communities in which mining takes place.
The Alternative Mining Indaba, which took place just a stone’s throw from the CTICC, was hosted by a number of civil society organisations including: Economic Justice Network (EJN), Benchmarks Foundation, ESSET, Afrodad, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Idasa, supported by religious leaders from Southern Africa. Reverend Malcolm Damon, executive director of EJN, made opening remarks, which captured the objectives of the event; “We want to create a platform for the communities and share stories of the atrocities perpetrated by the mining industry. We want to say that we are watching you.” The reverend did however also emphasise that constructive engagement with government and companies is absolutely necessary to strengthen policies and improve conditions for communities affected by mining activities.
Guest speaker, Archbishop Ndungane, highlighted the dilemmas of natural resource extraction by emphasising that “the only point of integration of SADC economies into the global economy has been, and remains, through the export of natural resources. Despite all the abundance of natural resources, citizens of SADC are among the poorest in the world, meaning that the management of resources has not been beneficial to the ordinary people.” He continued highlighting the fact that governments had failed to protect their citizens as “…human rights is the baseline expectation. Companies cannot compensate for human rights harm by performing good deeds elsewhere. These gross human rights atrocities that are a result of irresponsible mining practices should not be allowed to continue, not on our watch.”
Testimonies were given by community members from the Moroke and Mokopane communities in Limpopo and Luka in Rustenburg. These areas hold some of the richest reserves of platinum in the world and attract major mining companies like Anglo Platinum and Implats. The stories from the communities painted a very different picture to what the mining industry likes to portray. Evidence was given of unethical mining practices including, but not limited to: serious ecological damage, relocation, disruption of heritage sites, lack of economic benefits, and destruction of livelihoods.
The Royal Bafokeng case in Rustenburg is seen as a shining example of corporate accountability with the Traditional Authorities owning shares in the mining companies. However, no significant wealth distribution is taking place and the community exert little or no control over their resources. “The control of the resources is in the hands of the few. The decision making system is flawed. Decisions are made from the top and trickling down to the bottom. It’s not a bottom up approach. The community has no control on making decisions around their wealth. Consultations are being done with consultants and some elites but when the bigger meetings are held, the decisions are already taken,” explained Eric Mokoua from the Luka Environmental Forum.
The testimonies were supported by Brown Motsau, project manager at Benchmarks Foundation, who pointed to research which reveals the secrecy surrounding mining contracts and government revenues generated from these agreements. The lack of transparency and access to information poses one of the most serious challenges in terms of the ability of civil society and citizens to hold government and mining companies to account.
The Alternative Mining Indaba demanded that the UN Declaration on Free, Prior and Informed Consent is adopted and implemented. Communities should be properly informed about the consequences of mining and be free to decide whether or not they will allow mining activities in their area. If and when the communities welcome mining companies, the principles of transparency, accountability and participation should always guide the interaction between them.
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