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Minerals not saving all in southern Africa
If you thought the abundance of natural precious minerals in Africa would
make its inhabitants happy and rich. forget it and smile. Endless gold,
platinum, copper, and diamond fields coupled with decades of mining
still fail to transform poverty into prosperity. The reality has been a
fragmented, small middle class, endemic corruption, human rights
abuses, and total neglect of people. Multinational mining giants
continue to make super profits while local communities have to struggle
with mine owners to remember to plough back their profits into the
communities. Most promises of improved infrastructure made when mines
sought mining rights remain unfulfilled. As a result, a big class of
people are grounded in inherited poverty.
Matters worsen when indigenous people try to assert their rights. They are manhandled,
threatened, and even killed. The diamond fields of Chiadzwa in Zimbabwe
exude such a perirlous state. The mines in the Democratic Republic of
Congo are another example. Researched mining facts in Africa stand
solid. Mining contracts with governments are shrouded in secrecy; the
civil society and communities are denied the opportunity to negotiate
how the mining will take place.
That’s not all. Taxes and revenue paid to government are not usually made public – when they
are - the bet is - it’s a pittance. that also ties African governments
in perpetual poverty. When social, environmental, and economic
assessments are done, they are usually marinated with half truths. Take
for example, a promise for jobs that falls away when sophisticated
equipment comes slashing the work force numbers.
Reflections on this style of doing business have spiked a response from churches in
Southern Africa. Churches have investigated and attempted to give
communities a voice on how contentious issues that are far from being
won can be tackled. As the international mining analysts, fund
managers, investment specialists and financiers from around the globe,
mingled and cut deals at the annual Mining Indaba that ran from 1-4
February, two streets away at the Cape Town Convention Centre, a
parallel event, Alternative Mining Indaba, happened on the second day
of the almost two decades old Indaba.
The Economic Justice Network (EJN), sought to expose the folly of mining industry which perpetuates
inequality in the world. As the erstwhile mining associates paid a
participation fee of between R1 900 and R11 000 a person, it underlined
the clear exclusion of the poor who in most cases swallow the dust and
smoke of mines in vicinity of their humble homes.
“We have no problem with enterprise and the exploitation of resources. What we have
a problem with is when companies infringe on people’s rights and their
governments don’t protect them,” Mandla Hadebe, the spokesperson of
EJN, a network of council of churches in southern Africa fighting for
economic justice, said before Mining Indaba.
The three-hour Alternative Mining Indaba themed, ‘Poverty and extractive industries:
why we are in poverty, when we own mineral resources’, had all the
ingredients of a peaceful but painful encounter with reality. It
offered a cocktail of atrocities committed by mining companies in
pursuit of profits which added to the agony of trying to be heard.
“When apartheid was defeated, we thought our lives would change for the
better. We thought we could enjoy a slice of the fortune mined from our
community, but it was not to be,” said Jerry Tshehlakgolo, the
chairperson of Megoabading Crisis Committee and Dilokong community Association, in the North Western province of Mpumalanga.
Tshehlakgolo stops, searches for the appropriate words and goes on.
“The mines are still digging, not giving us enough attention - as if we are
not there. There were many of us in the committee who took up issues
with the mine in our area; we were promised jobs, and only the
chairperson was employed.” Tshehlakgolo even recalls the day he was
arrested with 14 other men after staging a demonstration in Dilokong by
just sitting at the gates of the mine, preventing the trucks from
carrying out the ore. They were later followed by the police and picked
up one by one in their houses.
“What was our crime … to tell them that our cemetery called for improvement? To tell them those
houses without foundations where inhabitable, that water seeped in
underneath when it rained ,or that they had become breeding grounds for
Lesiba Maphoto member of Pila/Sterk Water,
Mokopane in the province of Limpopo squarely blamed the mining
companies for not consulting affected communities. “When they came,
they promised bursaries and better housing, all of which was abandoned
as soon as the mining was in full swing,” said Maphoto.
In Rustenburg where some of the four big mines that include Anglo, Impala
and Xstrata have operated for more than 40 years, scarcity of resources
for local people has fuelled many vices. “Unemployment, overcrowding
with a number of immigrants coming in search of jobs, and the spread of
AIDS have been sharply witnessed,” said Eric Mokuoa adding that,
prostitution has become a part time activity that women engage in for
Its not only about vices, Mokuoa said. Unprotected,
disused mines have lead to at least three deaths of young children who
drowned while swimming there over the past three years. “The pollution
from the mines always finds its way into the soil, the water and
environment, putting the health of the people in danger,” said Mokuoa
with calmness that would soothe some mine bosses if one only he would
be granted an opportunity to showcase his long list of grievances.
As the few representatives of the mines in some of South Africa’s
provinces shared their tribulations, the former Anglican, Archbishop of
Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane shared the embarrassing old truth.
“Africa is poor because it is rich,” he said. Ndungane, the founder of
a pan-African non-profit organisation, Africa Monitor, said that despite the abundance of minerals in Africa, citizens of the 15 nations of the Southern African Development Community
are among the poorest in the world. "Human rights are being grossly
undermined because of the need for profit," said the archbishop.
The Rev. Malcolm Damon, executive director of EJN, a fellowship of Southern African Christian councils, said the Alternative Mining Indaba
was trying to give a voice to indigenous communities and caution mining
companies to be socially responsible. “It is unacceptable that our
governments continues to turn a blind eye to the fate of our vulnerable
communities while protecting the interests of mining companies that
contribute very little to the countries' economies because of corrupt
deals and tax concessions,” Damon said.
The general secretary of the 22-member Christian Council of Zambia,
Rev. Suzanne Natale knows too well how pressure on the government to
respond to ill treatment of local communities in mining areas works.
“We are now getting an audience with government officials after our
awareness drives to try and address some of the problems suffered by
the indigenous people,” she said. Rev Natale said the push in Zambia
now is for mining companies to publish what they pay and to bank all
their money in Zambia.
Camillius Kasalla, a Tanzanian representative from the Interfaith Committee buttonholed the problems of mining exploitation on the need for human dignity and the greed for material wealth.
The ripples of EJN meeting may not have immediately reached the insulated
walls of the convention centre where the barons of the mining industry,
drank coffee, sipped wine, and strategised on their future, but it
reignited hope for impoverished indigenous communities. Tshehlakgolo
had captured the mood when he started his testimony, “We are grateful
that our plight has become the concern of many other people.”