OPINION| Why won’t parliament and Gwede Mantashe listen to mining communities?

Exclusion, inequality and poverty remain the cornerstones of the South African reality, although this is not the reality of parliamentarians, government ministers and the gravy trains they haul behind them.

Our political economic system between 1890 and 1994 was highly dysfunctional. It served the interests of a small white population and excluded the black majority from its benefits.

The sheer weight of discontent that such a prejudiced political and economic system engendered led to its ostensible collapse and the emergence of new political and economic alliances between the old white minority political and economic elites and the new black political and economic elites.

But the fault line between the privileged elites and the impoverished and excluded part of the population became much deeper during the transitional period. In 1994, the poor and marginalised were already exposed to systemic poverty traps that not only perpetuated poverty, but also deepened it.

Section 1 of the Constitution states that the Republic of South Africa is founded on the values of, inter alia, human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. The Bill of Rights forms the cornerstone of our democracy and an obligation is placed on the state to respect, protect, promote and fulfil these rights.

The state, in accordance with its obligations, undertook to reform the mining landscape, which then formed the backbone of minority wealth accumulation during colonial apartheid. 

Yet it was striking to note that the 1998 White Paper, a 93-page document, only once dealt with the question of “community”, and its sum total of awareness and focus on the effects that mining has on communities is recorded as: “A forum should be established where the views of communities affected by mining could be heard.”

It soon became evident that the new mining legislative regime was moulded in the spirit of the elite compact that advanced the interests of the minority while subjugating the majority of those affected by mining to deeper and more institutionalised forms of exclusion and impoverishment. 

Although the equality clause in the Constitution provides that no person may be discriminated against on a number of grounds, including sex and gender, women in mining communities are still forced to compensate for the industry’s unequal wealth distribution in terms of the unrecognised reproductive labour of women.

In its 2008 report on mining-affected communities, the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) made the following specific recommendations with regard to legislation.

• The recommendations made by the HRC in this report concerning the obtaining of free prior informed consent of affected communities apply equally to state undertakings. 

• The department of minerals and energy should clearly state what its criteria are for meeting the required standard of “consultation” by the applicant mining company with the affected community. This will further empower the affected mining community to assert their rights during the process as opposed to objecting to a process after the fact.

Despite the recommendations from a Chapter 9 institution, the portfolio committee on mineral resources  and the department of mineral resources continued to ignore the interests of affected communities and, by 2016, the HRC, after holding hearings on the underlying socioeconomic problems of mining-affected communities, recommended the following.

• In the consideration of and decision-making relating to the granting of mining rights, the principle and policy of free prior and informed consent need to be adhered and reported on. 

• The department of mineral resources is directed to establish a working group with the Chamber of Mines, the South African Local Government Authority, civil society, community-based organisations and other relevant stakeholders with a view to establishing best practice guidelines or binding standards for the establishment of community forums in mining-affected communities. 

These guidelines or standards must adhere to the principle of free prior and informed consent and provide for the inclusion of diverse representation, democratic elections, set roles and responsibilities, financial oversight mechanisms and clear reporting and transparency obligations and be capable of enforcement.

And still the portfolio committee and the department steadfastly ignored the injunctions of communities affected by mining and a Chapter  9 institution.

More recently, the portfolio committee on mineral resources and energy, chaired by Sahlulele Luzipo since 2014, has continued to stonewall mining community interests and has even gone so far as to make false commitments in an official meeting. 

After receiving 50 000 signatures from Mining Affected Communities United in Action (Macua), Luzipo committed in a meeting in March 2021 to have discussions with Macua on how to realise free prior and informed consent principles in legislation. 

More than a year later, the chairperson refuses to respond to letters and refuses to consult mining-affected communities on these critical elements of exclusion on impoverishment.

In the same meeting the minister of mineral resources and energy, Gwede Mantashe, also committed to further discussions with Macua but he, too, has failed to act with honour and uphold that commitment.

As the economic and political elites prepare to hold yet another Mining Indaba in Cape Town next week, the exclusion of mining community interests stands as a stark reminder of the unequal distribution of wealth that has made South Africa the most unequal country in the world.

The tandem act of the chairperson of the portfolio committee and the minister, who are actively denying mining-affected community rights, while promoting the interests of mining corporations, is also a poignant reminder of how parliament failed our nation during the worst years of state capture, and how junior politicians in portfolio committees were unable to hold their senior political party heavyweights to account.

The failure by the portfolio committee to have meaningful dialogues with mining-affected communities, and promote their rights, is made even more egregious by the fact this the sixth parliament of South Africa was elected with the smallest mandate (49%) of any parliament since 1994. 

This decreased mandate and confidence of the electorate in the parliament of South Africa should at the very least prompt those who claim to represent us to be more mindful of other views in society. 

Our country has been mired in the putrid politics of elite compacts for too long. If we ever hope to escape the legacy of exclusion, inequality and impoverishment, then it must start with a public rejection of the elite compacts overseen by those who are meant to represent our collective interests.

The authors represent Mining Affected Communities United in Action (Macua) and Women Affected by Mining United in Action (Wamua), a coalition of mining community rights activists and organisations.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Meshack Mbangula
Meshack Mbangula is a renowned community activist and a leader in community capacitation and mobilisation for Mining Affected Communities Unite in Action (MACUA)

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