Communities lose confidence in mining industry

Communities surrounding multibillion rands platinum mining operations in the North West seem to have lost confidence in the promises of the mining industry to deliver sustainable livelihoods.

Instead communities have lamented socioeconomic and environmental degradation at the hands of the miners with observers saying it is this kind of perceptions which have fuelled resource nationalism across the globe.

This view of communities was captured in the latest Bench Marks Foundation research results released this week. According to the report, communities in the area say that mines’ promises and corporate social responsibility is a “lie” as they make a lot of promises when they enter a community and when they make social labour plans, but often do not deliver. The majority of the projects are done to satisfy their public image and rarely do they consult with them to find out what they actually need. The view touches even operations styled as Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) operations, like Royal Bafokeng, which gained footing on social sustainability ticket.

The report comes as South Africa’s mining industry faces calls for nationalization, in a movement pushed mainly by the ANCYL but suppressed by the mother body, the governing ANC.  ANCYL rhetoric is in many ways a part of resource nationalism sweeping across globe. Communities across the world have lost confidence in private mining houses and are calling for nationalization of mining assets.

This Bench Marks report revisits the initial study done by the organisation in 2007 in the Bojanala District of the North West Province of the social, economic and environmental performances of platinum mining companies in the area. The research is done within the framework of corporate social responsibility and includes the perceptions that local communities have on the mining companies in the area.

The area is defined as the prime platinum mining area in South Africa and the world. The mining companies touched by the research were Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum, Aquarius Platinum, Xstrata, Lonmin and Royal Bafokeng Mining.

“What we found again is that the corporate social responsibility programmes by the mines are top-down, designed by experts and imposed on communities,” says John Capel, Executive Director for the Bench Marks Foundation. “There is very little evidence that communities are actually consulted about their frustrations concerning the impact of mining operations on their lives. This has not changed since our last report five years ago.

“In addition, mines are obsessed with cutting costs and of reporting low cost operations to shareholders. Cost cutting is usually at the expense of the environment, labour and communities.

This usually turns into protests about low wages and unsafe working conditions.”

The report said another burning issue through the eyes of communities in the area is that the mining companies are finding creative means of shifting their health responsibilities to their employees, the village and the public health infrastructure.

The report said in February 2011, the National Union of Mineworkers alleged that Xstrata was firing workers on grounds of their HIV/AIDS status from one of its South African Collieries. This has had an impact on communities and mineworkers from the Tlhabane Township of Rustenburg. Many of Xstrata’s employees are now afraid to go for HIV/AIDS testing and treatment at the mine health facilities and now frequent the government facilities instead. Residents of the Tlhabane Township resent the sudden increase in patients at the government facilities and the increased demand for anti-retroviral treatment. The report warns that this has the potential of unleashing xenophobic attacks in the area.


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