New approach needed to ensure communities benefit from mining - Polity

19 February 2019 - The court’s aim of including the community in negotiations on the awarding of mineral rights is a noble one, evidently founded on the conviction that if they are able to negotiate before mining rights are awarded they should be able to benefit in a real and tangible way. But the truth is this system is open to the very same abuses as the Social Labour Plan.

Warren Robertson

In November last year, the Pretoria High Court ruled that the Department of Mineral Resources must obtain consent from the Xolobeni community before giving mining rights to an Australian company seeking to operate in that area. At the time, Mineral Resources minister Gwede Mantashe was quoted as saying that parts of the decision would need to be appealed as the judgment removed government’s ability to give mining rights to mining companies as required, and insisted that this would lead to companies turning their backs on South Africa, and industry going into decline.

The good news is that Mantashe’s view simply does not wash. Community involvement will likely not end mining in South Africa, or cause miners to turn their backs on this country.

What it is infinitely more likely is that the ruling will lead to yet another layer of generally undefined, poorly conceived legislation that will muddy the waters of mining and slow down the process of mining itself, along with benefiting the few and generally doing very little for the communities themselves. We know this because we have seen it before in the administration of the well-meaning, yet utterly impractical Social Labour Plan (SLP) laws.

Social and labour plans are one of three key documents that mining applicants need to draft and submit to the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) when applying for a mining right. It outlines how the establishment of the mine will improve life for an affected community and address their needs.

What actually happens with SLPs is very different from the intention. Two reports by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) clearly detail how, as one puts it, ‘SLPs do not appear to cater for actual community needs, a sentiment that is echoed by mining-affected communities throughout South Africa. There is critique that the SLPs system does not promote long-term planning nor incorporate sustainability considerations.’

The system is generally implemented on behalf of the mines by consultancies whose idea of development and catering to community needs does not necessarily meet those of the community themselves. These consultancies tend to take shortcuts, meeting with community leaders and investing in businesses, schemes and training programmes recommended by those leaders, and always with an eye on their own expenses and profits – a situation that over the years has proved ripe for corruption, ineptitude and gross misspending.

The CALS reports detail how in numerous communities that should be benefiting ‘both government and corporations are often surprised by the hostile, violent response of communities to things being done “for them”.’

The court’s aim of including the community in negotiations on the awarding of mineral rights is a noble one, evidently founded on the conviction that if they are able to negotiate before mining rights are awarded they should be able to benefit in a real and tangible way. But the truth is this system is open to the very same abuses as the Social Labour Plan.

Leaders, and specially created “interest groups”, will negotiate on behalf of the communities with consultants appointed by the mines and, in the end, arrangements will be met, just as they are for the Social Labour Plans, that benefit only a small percentage of the local community while the majority remain in the dark about their rights, and their potential benefits.

The answer will not be found in adding a new layer of complexity and potential corruption to an already difficult situation, but to rather liaise with relevant charities and NGOs with strong track records on spending the SLP funds and implementing them on real, meaningful community projects, thereby cutting out those who are in the sphere of community development for profit.

In the end no one is sicker of the delays, politics and wasteful expenditures than the mining companies themselves. They would love to help the communities and ensure their SLP funds are actually going toward building local communities, but this is not their core business, and at the moment no means exists to truly aid the communities, rather than a select few within them, with the already sizable provisions set aside for them in the SLP.

Until this is sorted out, the pattern in Xolobeni will be predictable for anyone who has watched the implementation of the Social Labour Plans. The anti-mining Amadiba Crisis Committee will raise their voice and stamp their feet at meetings until suddenly they don’t; after severe, costly delays, consultants will cash their cheques; mining rights will be granted to mine the dunes, and, despite the best intentions of the courts, the legislators and even the mines themselves, the vast majority of the community will not benefit.

Written by Warren Robertson, a writer commissioned by the SA Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank promoting political and economic freedom. Go to https://irr.org.za/ 

http://www.polity.org.za/article/new-approach-needed-to-ensure-communities-benefit-from-mining-2019-02-19

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