Delegates walk past billboards at the African Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town, February 4 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
Delegates walk past billboards at the African Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town, February 4 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

At the Mining Indaba unfolding in Cape Town, government has been focused on wooing investors to ramp up the rate of mineral exploitation in the country in the belief that merely bringing in investment, without ensuring ethical, economic, political and socially just processes will somehow not end up like the last 25 years, where the rising anger at local level has been proportionate to the rise in inequality.

In a new report, in which Action Aid SA conducted door-to-door surveys in communities affected by mining to assess the social, economic and political conditions caused by mining, we have found that the lived experiences of communities affected by mining do not coincide with the rhetorical and generic claims by government and corporations that mining has been a positive force for development in SA.

The nature of the unequal way that benefits have accrued to stakeholders of the sector have arguably outweighed the generic contribution that mining has played in the development of the economy.

From its earliest manifestation as a large-scale exploitative project, contestation about ownership and wealth distribution has characterised the sector, with wars, deprivation and exploitation featuring throughout its more than 150-year history in SA.

As we have shown in this report, that contestation has not subsided and remains at the core of disputes and conflicts in the sector.

In State of the Nation, South Africa 2016, Who is in Charge, in a chapter entitled: “Inequality, poverty and the state: The case of South Africa 2006–2011 by Margaret Chitiga–Mabugu, Evans Mupela, Phindile Ngwenya and Precious Zikhali, the authors argue that “empirically there is a disconnection between poverty and inequality in South Africa”. They find in their paper that “while South Africa has made notable progress in terms of aggregate poverty reduction ... this has not been accompanied by a corresponding reduction in inequality”.

They further make the argument that their research points to the fact that “growth does not necessarily affect poverty and inequality either together or indeed at all” while noting that “it is highly likely that inequality drives much of the social unrest in South Africa ... and has both a direct and indirect impact on dampening growth rates in the country”.

It is noteworthy then that while our report points to a distinct lack of benefit accruing to affected communities, other research highlights the general failure of the SA economy to reduce inequality and its concomitant threat to social cohesion.

The disparity between government and corporate’s rosy view of what mining offers the SA economy and the lived reality of deepening poverty and growing inequality suggests an increased threat of social conflict within the sector.

In an address to an assembly at the launch of Mistra’s recent publication, The Future of Mining in South Africa, Sunset or Sunrise, the mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe again placed the question of people, and how they experience mining, at the centre of his own analysis. He however laments in the same speech, that government has not yet found the formula to ensure that mining benefits accrue to the affected communities.

This comment by the minister and chair of the ANC, taken together with the contributions of Joel Netshitenzhe, a member of the national executive of the ANC, in the same book, raises hopes that government has internalised the central challenge facing efforts to realise a more inclusive and just mining regime.

Joel Netshitenzhe. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR
Joel Netshitenzhe. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR

In his chapter, Towards Mining Vision 2030, Joel Netshitenzhe, among a range of suggestions and insights, and despite the overall paradigm of intensifying exploitation of natural resources and investor-driven economic growth, points to the lack of “social compacting” among the key stakeholders, as being a central requirement of any project within the sector.

While the calls for greater levels of social compacting is to be welcomed, it remains evident, on a closer reading of the detail of the extensive analysis proffered by Netshitenzhe and Mantashe, that the ANC, and by extension government, still approaches the question of development from a paternalistic point of view.

As an example, Netshitenzhe suggests that while he acknowledges that the Marikana massacre in 2012 was precipitated by the lack of infrastructure and what he calls “related practices”, he nonetheless proffers that the way to circumvent such outcomes in the future is to ensure that “a long-term vision should oblige mining companies to be more actively involved in the conceptualisation and implementation of municipal and provincial development strategies and plans.”

To his credit Netshitenzhe does belatedly acknowledge that “structures of accountability to communities need to be improved and should involve the highest levels of the companies.”

The manner in which mining companies are promoted as the drivers of developmental strategies not only continues to view communities as passive recipients of handouts who are not capable of determining their own developmental paths, but also entrenches the paradigm of paternalistic top-down development.

If anything, our report has highlighted that, left to their own devices, local and provincial governments, working in collaboration with mining corporations, are not able to deliver developmental outcomes without acknowledging the developmental imperative of nurturing and fostering community initiated and controlled accountability mechanisms. This means unlearning the paternalistic notions of top-down development and encouraging, as the NDP does, that local government should engage and be held accountable by communities not in the invited spaces controlled by officials, but in the created spaces of community collectives.

Not only will a deeper institutionalisation of community participation assist with ensuring that developmental projects are relevant to the community, but community oversight can also assist in reducing corruption and ensuring that benefits accrue to those who it is meant to accrue to.

We call on the minister to urgently convene a social compact dialogue to find common ground with communities and to immediately start a process of developing a new mining legislative regime which recognises communities as key stakeholders who should participate in all areas of governance affecting them.

• Routledge is natural resources manager at Action Aid SA.