Letters to the Editor: November 23 to 29

Eusebius has an agenDA

Eusebius McKaiser claims to believe that we should not vote for the ANC or the Democratic Alliance, which is fair enough, or the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) either, but should instead support some other party (“Is it rational to vote for one of the big three?”).

Significantly, nearly all other parties are aligned with the DA, which is owned by the same people who own McKaiser, who will vote DA. He must lie about his own political preference because if he was an obvious DA partisan he would be ignored by the majority of South Africans who despise the DA.

In effect, McKaiser is asking us to waste our votes, because the tiny parties have no policies worthy of mention and can only cling to the DA under the special circumstances prevailing in some big municipalities. The forthcoming election is provincial and national, where the tiny parties have no effect at all.

His goal seems to be partly to encourage political quietism and partly to promote impotence. Thus white monopoly capital can continue to loot the country’s resources and incidentally immiserate its people without interference from democracy.

McKaiser’s attack on the EFF, as essentially the same as the other two parties, is also interesting. There is a great deal amiss with the EFF’s values, practices and policies. Yet, it has been persistently vilified by the oligarchy, presumably because it has campaigned for policies that the oligarchy opposes and collaborated with people whom the oligarchy wishes to disempower. Therefore, his attack lacks validity and calls for further suspicion.

Most importantly, McKaiser is presenting the political system as fixed and invariant, to be accepted uncritically. We can change the system, both by direct action and by voting tactically to send messages to parties. This explains McKaiser’s position; like the Constitutional Court or the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, he is there to preserve a system that favours the rich and powerful. We should not blame him for this; it’s a nice job if you can get it. But we should also not listen to him too seriously.

I am not saying that we should focus on electoral politics to change the system. But it is obvious that a surge for the EFF in the next election would be a kick in the pants for the plutocracy, and might destabilise their plans to loot the country.

At the very least it might put them to the trouble of buying out the EFF as they have bought out the other two parties, which could delay matters a little.

Meanwhile, however, it might be a good idea to try to set up some sort of genuinely popular organisation with some pretence at serving the interests of the public. — Mathew Blatchford, University of Fort Hare

Mines department inspectorate too weak

Sipho Kings is correct to highlight court cases that have found the department of mineral resources severely at fault in its interpretation of environmental and mining law (“Courts deliver big wins for environment”).

But he is wrong to state that “mining is exempt [from the National Environmental Management Act (Nema)] because of a 2014 take-over by the department of mineral resources of most environmental oversight for mining”.

Mining was not exempted from Nema in 2014 — it was brought fully within its ambit. The departments responsible for mines have always implemented the environmental laws for mining. No one says they have done a good job. Laws to protect the environment from mining were nonexistent before 1991 and weak until 2014, when mining was made subject to Nema.

Court decisions require government departments to act differently.

The department of mineral resources now uses its inspectors to enforce the Nema legislation for mines. Environmental groups argue that the department is both “the judge and jury, without the skills required to be executioner, when it came to ensuring mines repaired the environment”. 

But the department of mineral resources has to apply laws managed by the department of environmental affairs. There are calls for the department to be brought in as the enforcement agency for mining — instead of being only the drafter of the legislation.

The application of regulations in mining requires experts with mining experience — such as those within the mining inspectorate.

One could argue that the department of mineral resources should not be trusted with enforcing occupational health and safety laws — that only the departments of health and labour would put people before profits. Coming from a dismal, dangerous past, the mining industry has adopted a slogan of “zero harm”. There has been a remarkable improvement in mine health and safety since 1996.

The example set by the health and safety inspectorate could be a model for the environmental mineral resource inspectorate. This is already established — under Nema. It is sadly under-resourced, however.

Everyone recognises the environmental harm done by mining. Zero harm to the environment is not possible. 

If mining has to be done in South Africa, there will be environmental and social costs. These costs should not be externalised. The polluter must pay. Whoever “owns” the mining environmental inspectorate, it needs more attention and support. — Martin Nicol, Cape Town

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