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Much ado about responsible mining in Africa yields few results

The African Mining Vision was adopted in 2009 by the African Union and developed by the Economic Commission for Africa. In the same year, the Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa organised the first Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI).

This year, the eighth such indaba was held in Cape Town and was attended by more than 400 delegates from 45 countries in Africa, North and South America, and Asia. The theme was Making Natural Resources Work for the People: Domestication of the African Mining Vision — from Vision to Reality.

The AMI is held alongside the Investing in African Mining Indaba, successive iterations of which have yielded little to no dividends for mining-affected communities. The AMI was organised as a community and civil-society-driven counterpoint to the business indaba, which is billed as one of the biggest investment-focused mining conferences in Africa and the world, “dedicated to capitalisation and development of mining interest in Africa”.

The AMI and those working for economic justice for the marginalised realised that the business indaba was interested only in the exploitation of the mineral resources of Africa for the benefit of big capital. For this reason, the AMI took shape at a hotel close to the mining indaba, with a strong focus on involving mining-affected communities and those working on social, economic and environmental justice.

The Africa Mining Vision aims to assist African governments and citizens to develop a more beneficial mining dispensation with fair benefits for all stakeholders. Its vision is that “the transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources should underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socioeconomic development”.

It envisages an African mining sector that contributes to growth and the development of the African economy and market, rather than benefiting only an insular sector in an “enclave” economy.

The vision incorporates what it calls downstream, upstream and sidestream linkages. Downstream linkages include “mineral beneficiation and manufacturing”. Upstream linkages include capital goods, consumables and service industries. Sidestream linkages include infrastructure such as energy, logistics and water, as well as skills and technology.

The vision highlights the fact that an inclusive partnership between the state, the private sector and mining communities and other stakeholders is crucial for the shared benefit of our resources.

It further envisages a sustainable and well-governed mining sector that effectively garners and deploys resource rents in a manner that is safe, healthy, environmentally friendly, socially responsible, gender and ethnically sensitive and inclusive. Such a mining sector would become a key component of a diversified, vibrant and globally competitive industrialising African economy.

Moreover, this mining sector would harness the potential of artisanal and small-scale mining to improve livelihoods and economic development among the poorest of the African continent.

So what has happened since 2009 and how has Africa progressed in achieving a mining sector that “underpins broad-based sustainable growth and socioeconomic development”?

At the AU level, in co-operation with the Africa Mineral and Development Centre, African governments have adopted the African Mineral Governance Monitoring Framework and, in 2013, the AU conference in Maputo of ministers responsible for mineral resources mandated the AU Commission to develop a governance framework for an Africa-led and -owned mineral sector.

In spite of this it seems not much has changed. Africa is still burdened and not blessed by its natural resources. Some elites and their mining interests are still focused on profits at any cost. In some cases, government officials see minerals and the resources as an opportunity to line their own pockets, instead of focusing on how these resources can deployed for the benefit of the people and used for socioeconomic development.

“Not much has changed.” These were the words of Thumeka Magwangqana, from Sikhala Sonke, a Marikana-based women’s organisation. According to Magwangqana, Lonmin made promises after the 2012 massacre, promises that were never fulfilled.

Similarly, if one asked the families of Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyarende, who were working in a container that collapsed into a sinkhole at Lily Mine in Barberton, they would also tell us: nothing has changed. They were promised R200 000 by Vantage Gold Mine but they are still waiting for it. In fact, things are worse for the workers of Lily Mine and their families. The mine faces closure and they have no future.

So a mining vision can be good but, in the end, we need to measure it by the extent to which the minerals and resources of Africa benefit its people.

Malcolm Damon is the executive director of the Economic Justice Network, organisers of the eighth Alternative Mining Indaba

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