By Greg Nicolson• 5 February 2019
Action Aid South Africa’s report Mining in South Africa 2018: Whose Benefit and Whose Burden? pulls no punches. It begins by declaring: “The approach to mining in South Africa has consistently been a violent, masculine and exploitative project to concentrate benefits for a few at the expense of the majority.”
The report, to be launched in Cape Town on Tuesday evening, found that very few respondents in mining communities said they benefited from mining and many who are concerned about the environmental and health impacts the industry brings to an area. Whose Benefit and Whose Burden? comes out as the country’s largest industry-led mining event, the Mining Indaba, takes place in Cape Town and stakeholders wrestle with the role of community agency in the sector.
With the assistance of Mining Affected Communities United in Action (Macua) and Women Affected by Mining United in Action (Wamua), Action Aid interviewed 483 women and 275 men in eight mining communities across eight provinces.
Their responses emphasise the lack of perceived benefit mining has had on communities despite provisions in legislation and the Mining Charter meant to uplift local citizens.
The most startling finding is that 79% of respondents said they had not benefited from their local mine at all. While 13% listed positive benefits such as roads, clinics and employment, 8% said mining had only brought negative effects.
Environmental issues – air, land and water pollution – topped the list of concerns on mining, followed by the unsafe environment it creates and health risks, such as tuberculosis, HIV infection and silicosis.
Only 27% respondents said a member of their household had at some point had a job at the mine, with 41% of them saying the employment was casual and 33% describing the work as “other”. That means no one from the households of 73% of people interviewed had been employed in the mining area.
The report also found a worrying lack of knowledge in mining communities about the system governing their role, despite the intensive commitments mining companies are supposed to meet, on paper at least, in regards to community engagement and upliftment.
Mining companies must have an approved social and labour plan (SLP) to operate. One aim of SLPs is to: “Ensure that holders of mining rights contribute towards the socio-economic development of the areas in which they are operating.”
Of those interviewed, 91% did not know what an SLP was; 85% didn’t know of any community structures engaging with the mine, and 95% had never seen an SLP document.
The study highlighted serious concerns about the impact that mining has on women in communities. Only women were interviewed in Phola, Mpumalanga, and 40% of respondents said they could only get work at the local mine through offering sexual favours or suffering sexual harassment.
With a large influx in men in communities, the report said 85% of female respondents noted an increase in violence. “The significant influx has been linked with a steep rise in murder, sexual abuse and rape, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and a rise in prostitution and unwanted pregnancies,” it noted.
“Women are now desperate and they end up selling their bodies to the outsider in order to put food on the table for their children,” said one woman interviewed.
The Action Aid report argued that communities need to have more agency in the mining process. Community members said they want mining to bring employment, skills, accountability, consultation from the mine and improved basic services.
A 2018 court ruling on mining in Xolobeni, Eastern Cape, said communities must give consent before mining commences, rather than just be consulted. Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe is opposed to the new restriction, concerned it may stifle economic growth.
At the opening of the Mining Indaba on Monday he said: “There must be meaningful and sufficient engagement with communities in granting and issuing of prospecting rights, mining rights and permits to determine rights, obligations, impacts and benefits for communities.
He added: “It must be emphasised that the licensing function should remain with the state, as required by legislation, and not be assigned to communities.”
A statement from the Minerals Council, representing mining companies, said its senior executive of public affairs and transformation, Tebello Chabana acknowledged on Tuesday at the Mining Indaba that there was a gap between community expectations and companies’ efforts.
“The Minerals Council is committed to working with government and other social partners to address these issues, and to strongly encourage greater collaboration between its members and with government and other stakeholders,” said the statement.
According to figures from the Minerals Council, in 2018 the industry contributed R356-billion to the country’s GDP and R22-billion in taxes. Action Aid said the companies are profiting and the government is getting tax revenue, while communities largely suffer.