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5 Feb 2021

Richard Meeran and Zanele Mbuyisa, BusinessDay

Commentary: Anglo American must address its poor legacy of harming communities

"Anglo must address its poor legacy of harming communities", 5 February 2021

In any other year, the great and the good of the global mining industry would be gathered in Cape Town for the annual Mining Indaba. This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisers instead held a two-day, virtual conference featuring, among others, Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani.

... He acknowledged that because local communities are most affected by mining companies’ operations, they are important stakeholders. Their needs and quality of life should be accounted for not only during a mine’s lifespan, but in the future too. But mining companies cannot only look at their shiny future, they also have to look at their murky past, where the lasting impacts of poor practices are still devastating vulnerable communities.

Anglo’s position regarding the class-action lawsuit filed against it in the high court in October on behalf of more than 100,000 claimants, most of whom are children with uncertain futures, is just one unfortunate example.

The Kabwe lead mine in Zambia was in the Anglo group for 50 years and was one of the world’s most productive lead mines, all this time causing widespread contamination of the soil, dust, water and vegetation. Mining and environmental experts have concluded, based on the levels of annual production at Kabwe, that two thirds of the lead pollution in Kabwe stemmed from the years Anglo was involved in the operation.

... Last year, during a presentation of the company’s annual sustainability report, Cutifani said, “We don’t believe Anglo American is responsible for the current situation.”

... Its denial of responsibility against the backdrop of evangelising the importance of ESG reveals a deeper truth: Anglo is committed to grand public statements and positive publicity, not positive change. The time has come for Anglo American to confront the reality of its legacy in Kabwe.