Report warns of more tragedies like Marikana

A report published on the eve of the Marikana shooting highlighted the social and environmental ills caused by the mining industry in the North-West platinum belt. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

A report published on the eve of the Marikana shooting highlighted the social and environmental ills caused by the mining industry in the North-West platinum belt. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

In a report published on the eve of the August 16 shootings, the Bench Marks Foundation highlighted the social and environmental ills caused by the mining industry in the North-West platinum belt. It identified the shortcomings of five companies besides Lonmin, the immediate cause of the upheavals.

John Capel, executive director of the foundation, said the blame for the Marikana massacre should be shared by the other companies listed in the report – Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum, Xstrata, Aquarius and Royal Bafokeng Platinum.

"Lonmin is not the worst, all these companies are bad. They have all contributed to huge resentment in local communities and made false promises that lag far behind what they practise," he told the Mail & Guardian.

While most mineworkers lived in "appalling conditions" in informal settlements around the mines, discontent was being fuelled by perceptions that the companies were making huge profits and serving the interests of shareholders rather than the communities, the report said.

Though the companies produced glossy annual sustainability reports highlighting their achievements, they "have failed on the whole to meet the principles for global corporate responsibility", wrote foundation chairperson Reverend Jo Seoka. The foundation was set up by faith-based groups and launched by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2001.

According to the report, the corporate social responsibility programmes in the platinum belt are "top-down, designed by experts and imposed on communities. There is very little evidence that communities are actually consulted about their needs, or about their frustrations concerning the impact of mining operations on their lives."

David van Wyk, the lead researcher from the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at North-West University, said at the launch of the report "political pollution" caused by politicians and their families holding positions on the boards of mining companies may account for the unwillingness of companies and the government to address the problems.

Political patronage
This perception applied in particular to Aquarius, which had concluded a BEE deal with Zwelake Sisulu, Zenani Mandela-Dlamini and the Malibongwe Women's Development Agency, a project of the ANC Women's League.

"It is very difficult not to conclude that the objectives of this empowerment project are political patronage. Having senior politicians or civil servants and/or their family members on the boards of mining companies or as BEE partners and shareholders is extremely problematic and undermining of democracy," the report said.

Aquarius was taken to task for employing migrant labourers who cause tensions among local communities. It also relied heavily on sub-contracting, employing 9 434 workers as subcontracted labour out of a total of 11 072 employees, the report said.

All the companies were criticised for providing workers with a living-out allowance that is insufficient to pay for proper formal accommodation and means they have to rent shacks in the mushrooming informal settlements around the mines.

Anglo Platinum was planning to build employee accommodation, but it was part of a "home ownership scheme. This means that the houses are being sold to employees and that Anglo Platinum will merely assist employees with bank guarantees for home loans."

Anglo was also criticised for exceeding permitted air pollution levels and the harmful impacts of its operations on water resources. "The corporation reports only a 63% compliance with 688 conditions requiring legal compliance," the report said.

The main issues concerning Impala Platinum included high levels of fatalities at its operations, extensive use of sub-contracted labour and damaging environmental impacts. Lack of employment opportunities given to local youth was also creating tensions.

Xstrata was criticised for its reliance on contract workers, which had resulted in a squatter camp mushrooming on a swampy piece of land next to its operations and causing tensions with Tlhabane residents. "The Bojanala District has seen frequent outbreaks of xenophobic attacks over the years," said the report.

No local jobs
It accused Royal Bafokeng Platinum of creating tensions around the ownership of land and mineral resources in the area, while failing to provide local jobs and development opportunities for local SMMEs.

Asked for comment, Implats said it was still studying the report and Royal Bafokeng said it would not comment. Aquarius did not respond.

Anglo Platinum said its emission levels were within legal limits and it planned to build 20 000 houses in the area by the end of 2017. It had responded directly to the specifics raised by Bench Marks, but this "response in no way endorses the authenticity of the research methodology and/or findings.

Xstrata's executive manager, Songeza Zibi, also criticised the "generalisations" and a lack of consultation in the research. The company was sometimes forced to use outside specialists and was guided by the integrated development planning of local municipalities.

"Generally what the municipality says are the expectations of communities may not be what the communities want, but this is what we have to deal with," he said.

Previously, the M&G reported on a a leaked report from 2006, which said there was a disjuncture between what Lonmin says it is doing in communities and what is experienced by people in Marikana.

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements. She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga. An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation. She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive. She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice. Read more from Fiona Macleod


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