As SA works to reset and rebuild, reaffirming our commitment to transforming our economy and society has never been more urgent. Transformation can enable our economic recovery and social cohesion efforts.

Over the past 27 years SA has been guided by the ideals set out in the constitution to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. While we have made much progress, we also know our social fabric is fraying and our economy remains closed to millions of our people.

The events of early July are evidence of this and cannot be dismissed. They point to the absolute imperative of real transformation. Crisis has compounded crisis, and we have no guarantee that more upheaval won’t follow unless we correct our course.

Transformation is indivisible from our economic recovery, and I believe mining has a critical role to play in ensuring SA achieves both these goals. Our economic impact as an industry is undeniable and pivotal, especially in present conditions. The industry’s output in the first quarter of 2021 increased 18.1% in comparison to the previous quarter,  contributing 9% of SA’s GDP. More recently, mining has been playing an important role through its contribution to the national fiscus through the taxes and royalties mining companies collectively pay.

As an industry we continue to contribute significantly to the day-to-day sustainability of many communities by pooling resources and skills and collaborating with the government and communities to respond to the social, health and economic aspects of the pandemic.

If anything, the past few months have proved that mining matters. It matters to the close to half a million people directly employed by the industry, whose lives and livelihoods have largely been safeguarded during this time of upheaval. It matters to the thousands of businesses — small, medium and large — that have continued to benefit from mining procurement, even with the challenges we face.

It matters to the communities across the length and breadth of SA, who have benefited from the immense social and infrastructure investment from mining companies at a time when many other industries were scaling back their commitments.

However, this is not enough. With millions of South Africans knocking at the door of opportunity, finding new ways to transform our economy and society has become non-negotiable. Many of our mining communities are located in parts of SA that are underdeveloped and remote, and its people rely on mining and adjacent industries for economic opportunities.

This intensifies the urban-rural divide that defines our economy and society, which in many instances means opportunities for a better life are not always located where people live. Our crisis is further compounded by a labour market in which 7.8-million people are unemployed — with men likely to be in paid employment more than women, and millions of young people not in employment, education or training.

Transforming our communities for impact

Traditionally, a considerable part of the mining’s industry’s transformative efforts in communities has been focused on developing and supporting critical infrastructure such as roads, health facilities, and clean water to improve the lives of people. But with growing inequality and unemployment it is clear that we all need to think differently if we are to solve these pressing challenges.

At Anglo American we have moved away from an approach that pursues community development in a piecemeal fashion. We champion economic development that is inclusive, deliberate and done in a collaborative way — involving government, business, NGOs academia and communities themselves. Through this approach, which we call collaborative regional development (CRD), we are developing new opportunities that enable large-scale socioeconomic development initiatives. This is about creating true sustainable development opportunities that do not rely on mining in the communities where we operate.

We start by working with our host communities to identify and codesign the socioeconomic development opportunities with the greatest potential in a region. By using spatial planning and analysis we forge partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders, including community representatives, faith groups, businesses and entrepreneurs, government, academics, and NGOs. These partnerships not only allow us to better understand the needs and aspirations of our host communities, but help us transform the sustainability of our host regions far beyond the life-cycle of the mine.

In Limpopo we have implemented a five-year community-orientated primary care programme that focuses on taking healthcare professionals into homes to help with critical diagnosis and care of community members. Through the programme we anticipate providing community health support for 3.6-million people, averting more than 5,500 deaths and ensuring economic activity in the region continues.

The intended effect is healthy, thriving and empowered communities that are self-sufficient. This is critical: as one of SA’s most significant players in the mining industry, Anglo American would not exist if it were not for our communities. It is in our communities where we mine the mineral resources that power our economy and drive the growth of the country. It is here where our transformative effect needs to be felt.

Our path to economic recovery is not going to be sustainable if we do not invest in advancing the progress of women and young people. Youth and gender transformation has been undermined, with young people and women being told  to “wait in the queue” while the other dimensions of transformation — be it racial or economic — take centre stage.

If we are to learn anything from the recent upheaval it is that people’s lived experiences of transformation matter. It is up to us, as citizens, to work together to build the society that is envisioned in our constitution. This is our collective and most urgent task — we dare not fail. 

• Fakude chairs Anglo American’s management board in SA. She is president of the Minerals Council SA and author of  'Boardroom Dancing — Transformation Stories From A Corporate Activist'


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