Mining communities are ready to explode, say activists

| Christopher Rutledge
Communities have been left out of all the debates on mining and the environment, including Operation Phakisa, say activists. Photo courtesy of Tracey Davies.

Phakisa, from the Sesotho word meaning “hurry up”, has been touted by government as the silver bullet that would “fast track the implementation of solutions on critical development issues.”

But for Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), representing 100 communities through 70 affiliated organisations, Operation Phakisa is just “a fast tracking of the killings of our people and continued environmental destruction as it puts profit before the people.” MACUA says the plan should be scrapped “because it keeps on feeding the excruciating pain felt by communities who bear the negative repercussions of mining every single day.”

In a meeting held between the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), MACUA and ActionAid South Africa (AASA) recently, to consider how communities could participate in the Phakisa project, the DPME reiterated that the process was aimed at bringing together an “alliance of the willing” to focus on the “implementation” of “confident projects,” that were “constructive, pragmatic and viable.”

To their credit, the Phakisa planning team admitted that they were faced with a tough challenge because of historical antagonisms and intractable policy differences between key stakeholders. They were however at pains to emphasise that the Phakisa process was not about policy but about processes and implementation.

It was at this point that the MACUA leadership once again confirmed the absurdity of a sector of powerful players who ignore the insights and inputs of communities at the peril of inclusive and sustainable solutions. Matthews Hlabane, a MACUA leader from Mpumalanga, immediately pointed out to the DPME team that despite the rhetorical claims that mining affected communities are stakeholders, “they are a stakeholder without a stake, they are not stakeholders, they are victims.”

This crucial difference in emphasis sits at the heart of the brewing discontent among mining affected communities and as Meshack Mbangula, National Coordinator for MACUA, pointed out, “communities are angry, are ready to explode and government ignores communities at the cost of greater social conflict.”

MACUA leaders questioned the intentions of Phakisa and pointed out that communities affected by mining have only experienced the worst effects of mining and that this unholy haste to “hurry up” - phakisa - without broader and proper consultation would mean more of the exclusion, pollution and environmental destruction that mining has come to symbolise. Instead, they argued that, considering the bloody, destructive and contentious nature of mining in South Africa it would be wise to instead engage in Operation Bhekisisa – look closely.

What the industry needed was a considered, mature and inclusive discussion on what the real issues are that face South Africa, and through such deliberations to reach lasting and sustainable solutions.

The One Million Climate jobs campaign, which shows that it would be possible to create one million jobs, while greening our environment and rehabilitating the worst excesses of mining environmental destruction, was highlighted as a case in point. It was pointed out to the DPME, that MACUA, as part of the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign, delivered over 100,000 signatures to the DPME calling on the department to include the campaign in its planning. The campaign has yet to receive a response from the department.

It is ironic then that the DPME seems unwilling to move beyond its scripted path to engage in real conversations about possible solutions. But to be fair, the Planning Commission of Phakisa are merely the functionaries who are trying to navigate a path that could bring together an “alliance of the willing” and in their own words, “break the paralysis” facing the sector.

Given the nature of the engagements with Operation Phakisa to date, it would be fair to say that the intransigence of the government (Department of Mineral Resources`) and its continued refusal to acknowledge, let alone meet with, mining affected communities, remains the biggest obstacle to inclusive solutions in the industry.

MACUA has pointed out that all mining activities and processes to date, including the mining Indaba in Cape Town; mining lekgotlas organised by the Chamber of Mines, government and labour, the Minerals Petroleum Resources Development Act – MPRDA - passed by parliament and the Mining Charter agreed to by government, business and labour have been devised “with no consultation”. The failure to build inclusive platforms and inclusive solutions is what allows business to hold the country to ransom and allows business leaders to issue demands that if they are “not satisfied with the way the Phakisa goes then we will withdraw our delegation after 4 days”. Thus signalling to the Phakisa team and to the rest of society, that “you will do it our way, or we will take the highway”.

Government and business have to understand that quick-fix, fast-track solutions are ultimately doomed to fail and the only “viable, constructive and pragmatic” way forward, is an inclusive one.

Bring on Operation Bhekisisa.

*Christopher Rutledge is the Mining and extractives Coordinator for ActionAid South Africa and the Convenor of the Coalition on the MPRDA. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of GroundUp.

TOPICS:  Environment Labour

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