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Picture: ALON SKUY
Picture: ALON SKUY

The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV) provide us with a moment to reflect. It is a time to focus on the lives of people who face abuse, fear and degradation on a daily basis, often in their own homes.

When GBV strikes it creates myriad crises. Victims need medical care, psychological support and legal assistance. They face imminent physical danger and must navigate difficult choices. It is a lonely and terrifying experience even for those who can access support services. For those who can’t, it is often a death sentence.

In the mining industry we are aware of the terrible toll of GBV on the lives of people in our host communities, especially women and children. We also know mining communities are often remote, making it more difficult to access services. A victim of GBV in a rural village or small town is often forced to navigate the experience alone, without any support or intervention except perhaps the help of neighbours. 

As mining companies, we have ongoing relationships with the local communities in which our mines are located. Through our social and labour plans we support development projects, build skills and try to address some of the most urgent needs around us. In the course of our work we interact with tribal authorities, local municipalities and provincial governments. We are uniquely placed to make a difference to the social landscape around our mines, and we want to use this opportunity to help provide services to victims of GBV.

During the course of this year we explored how mining companies could collaborate to provide GBV services in mining areas. If the entire industry decides to focus on this issue we can make a substantial contribution in the areas in which we work. In looking at options we realised that many mining companies already support GBV projects, but that we did not have a common approach and were not pooling our resources. An industrywide approach could change that and release substantial resources for those who need our help.

In the course of discussions with the National GBV Response Fund we were encouraged to consider a partnership with an outstanding initiative that is located within the state — the Thuthuzela Care Centre programme. These are multidisciplinary hubs run by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in co-operation with the departments of health, safety & security and social development. Under the overall leadership of the department of justice, they offer a one-stop-shop approach where victims can access a variety of services under one roof.

When a victim arrives at a care centre they can expect an integrated service that includes medical services, counselling, reporting of cases, preparation for prosecution and the court process, and referral to longer-term support. There are 61 such centres in SA, and a need for many more. They fall under the authority of the Sexual Offences & Community Affairs Unit of the NPA, a key player in the fight against GBV. They deserve our admiration for the work they do. They also deserve our support.

How can mining companies help? In many of the mining communities in which we work there are no care centres, and we need to work together with the NPA to establish new centres. We are aware of one mining company that has sponsored the establishment of a new centre in Limpopo, and we have identified a second opportunity in North West. But even where they exist, there is no guarantee that they have the resources they need.

Some care centres are overwhelmed with cases and need additional equipment, facilities and support. Others are not well known to their communities and need help with marketing their services and reaching out to networks that will be able to refer victims. Others require expansion, additional staff or better links to shelters. Almost all require assistance in transporting victims from where they are (often sitting in a police station or church) to the place where they can get help. If we establish effective partnerships between the care centres and the mining companies, we can support all of these needs, and in this way support victims in our communities.

In the course of our work we have met the extraordinary staff of the NPA’s sexual offences & community affairs unit. Their energy and commitment have been inspiring. Their work requires courage and resilience, and the least we can do is support them. We have also been impressed at the ability of the state to offer an integrated service that involves staff from several departments. Surely this kind of integration is a model of the kind of government services we need?

We also appreciate the work that is being done by the GBV and Femicide Response Fund, which is playing an important role in the sector.

On December 2 a partnership agreement will be signed between the Minerals Council, the NPA and the GBVF Response Fund. The Minerals Council has undertaken to co-ordinate efforts across the industry. Mining companies will engage with the Thuthuzela Care Centres in their areas, or sponsor new centres where they are needed. An advisory board will oversee the initiative, creating co-operation between the NPA, GBVF Fund, Minerals Council and individual mining companies.

In this way we hope to establish the mining industry as a source of support to the care-centre initiative. If we can get this right we can demonstrate that the private sector can work with government to address the urgent problems we face.

We recognise that much more is needed. In particular we need to help prevent GBV rather than only responding when it has already happened. We need to shift the social norms that contribute to GBV. We need to create economic opportunities, especially for women, and especially in rural and remote areas.

In the meanwhile, response services are critical. When victims finds themselves in the midst of terror and despair, they should have somewhere to turn. We want to ensure that, at least in the areas in which we work, there will be a helping hand.

• Dr Balfour (Minerals Council), Bethlehem (Sedibelo Resources), McMaster (Fraser Alexander) and Korth (Anglo American) are all involved in the mining industry and have been working together to craft the national GBV partnership.

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