Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Alternative Mining Indaba

Africa, with a population of 1.2 billion people, holds about a third of the world's mineral resources, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). The continent produces a tenth of the world's oil and two-thirds of its diamonds.

Of Africa's 54 countries, 24 rely on a select few mineral products to generate more than 75 per cent of their export earnings, the AfDB found. In Botswana, for example, nearly 45 per cent of government revenues come from mining, while natural resource exports account for 25 per cent of revenues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a report from the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) showed.

The war criminal and well paid advisor to dictators, Tony Blair, addressed 7000 delegates (all who had paid the 23,000 rand a ticket) of the Mining Indaba. Did he know that rather than investors, actual mining workers were holding an Alternative Mining Indaba which had 300 delegates attending.  At a march to the Mining Indaba on the summit’s first day, placards summed up the range of issues at stake: “Stop polluting our water.” “Africa is not for sale!” “Our mineral resources, our future!” “It’s not development when the environment is being destroyed.” “No to tax dodging!”

In 2002, a young man called Fortunate Siziba was walking home in Mapanzure, Zimbabwe, at night when he fell into an open, unsecured, un-lit pit previously used for chrome mining. The pit was 17 metres deep. Siziba was left partially blind. In 2012, nine-year-old Asa Mpofu fell into an open, unsecured, un-lit chrome mining pit in the same area. She drowned. In neither case was any compensation paid by the chrome mine operators, or even an apology given. The most assistance that Siziba received from the mine operator was to be transported “in the bucket of a front-loader” to a nearby clinic. The Alternative Mining Indaba, people are angry. What emerges from the Alternative Mining Indaba is not solely a simplistic picture of mining companies being bad and local communities being good. The failure of African governments to protect the interests of their people is also cast into stark relief.

“We are not anti-development,” Southern Africa Green Revolution’s Matthews Hlabane said. “We are anti-development we don’t understand.”

Southern African Resource Watch’s Georges Bokundu summed it up most flatly in a presentation on the second day, with regards to the situation in his home country: “Mining copper, gold has brought no development to DRC. Only more conflict.”

“Development” at all is something of a contested term in these circles – promised by mining companies, yet often failing to materialise in the way governments or communities hope. Part of the problem is how little say communities are generally granted into what mining companies do around them. Mining legislation in South Africa and other countries demands that mining companies produce Social and Labour Plans – SLPs – which should lay out their plans for how they will contribute to socio-economic development around the mine. As the Legal Resources Centre’s Wilmien Wicomb pointed out, however, these are generally kept secret from the communities – who then have no way of knowing whether mining companies are sticking to whatever they promised in order to win their cherished mining rights. This lack of information also affects community-members concerned about the environmental impact of mines.

Lawyer Gilbert Makore, of the Zimbabwean Environmental Law Association, said that “most communities have never seen an environmental impact assessment report”. Even if they are granted access to such a report, the language is often highly technical, and often in English only. Corruption occurs between some environmental consultants, too, who produce copy-paste reports for different mines. Even when such consultants are not corrupt, Makore said, they can “go in, hold one meeting with a local leader, and then pass that off as community consultation”.

In Kankoyo, Zambia a major copper mine, and the resulting mining activities have had a “devastating impact” on their environment, Soil can now only support the growth of mango trees and small plants. Residents complain of respiratory problems. Houses have developed cracks in the walls ranging in size from relatively small to big enough to allow two people to shake hands. The soil erosion which results from mining leaves the house foundations unsupported, he explained. In 2012 the community presented their problems to the mining company. They discovered that in terms of the agreement signed with the Zambian government, the mine was exempted from environmental liability. There is little doubt that governments do not do enough to ensure that environmental or social contracts are stringently adhered to by mining companies.

South African mining minister Susan Shabangu was receiving annual reports from Lonmin, was aware that the mine was failing to live up to its socio-economic obligations in the Marikana area, and took no action for a long time. The Bench Marks Foundation’s Hassen Lorgat said that there was a tendency among certain conservative media pundits, government and corporations to see what happened at Marikana as an “aberration” – an unpredictable event spawned by union conflict – to avoid discussing ”corporate neglect of workers, abuse of power and privilege of exploiting our mineral resources”. In Lonmin’s own 2011 Annual Report they had already identified risks including “poor community relations due to internal and external factors that could result in civil unrest”.

Zama-zama, or illegal miners, are continuously vilified and criminalized. Mention of the zama-zama has recurred throughout the summit in tones of outrage or concern about their criminalisation – as if “legitimate” mining activity can only be undertaken by European and North American mining corporations. One delegate summed up what seemed to be a widespread sentiment: It’s like when Europeans kill endangered animals and they call it hunting, but when Africans do it they call it poaching.

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