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16 Mar 2023

Palesa Maloisane, Mail & Guardian (South Africa)

S. Africa: Legislative measures taken to regulate mining operations & transform the industry has not done much to transform & offset the harmful impact of mining on the lives of mining affected communities

‘The human cost of South Africa’s mining and corporate riches’ 9 March 2023

Colonial and apartheid-era policies and practices modelled the exploitative and exclusive nature of mining in South Africa, a legacy that continues to shape the economic, social, and legal landscape of the present-day mining industry. Various accounts from mining-affected community members, as captured in Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s 2022 report The Impact and Assessment of Improper Mine Closures in South Africa: Community Perspectives on Human Rights, reveal the demographic and socioeconomic landscape that evolved from apartheid spatial planning and a mining legacy that remains largely unchanged. Mining-affected communities have expressed concerns regarding the devastating environmental and social impact that mining has had on their wellbeing and livelihoods, particularly during mine closures. While the post-apartheid government has taken legislative measures to regulate mining operations and transform the industry, the lived reality for many residents of mining-affected communities is that this has done little to effectively transform and offset the harmful impact of mining on their daily lives.

…In recognition that the mineral resources of South Africa are the common heritage of all those who live here, the MPRDA requires a mine to include in its application to mine a Social and Labour Plan (SLP), which must detail how a mine plans to benefit the community. SLPs are a legally binding mechanism through which companies are required to promote employment, advance social and economic welfare, and contribute to the development of the community within which they operate. However, due to lack of consultation with host communities regarding the type of development they would like to benefit from and a failure to fulfil the undertakings made in SLPs, many mining communities continue to live in extreme poverty.

…Effective mine closures require proper planning throughout the lifecycle of the mine and not just towards the end of a mine’s lifespan. There should be greater regulatory oversight and community consultation at every stage of mining, including mine closure. Mining companies must take responsibility for their practices and impact on communities. A common thread throughout South Africa’s mining history has been inequality. We must cut this thread and ensure that visions of mining justice are based on shared prosperity. This is only possible through meaningful and actual community participation in all decision-making processes throughout the lifecycle of a mine, in the ownership of mines, and in the strengthening of the legislative framework and regulations to combat widespread abuse of current loopholes in the law that facilitate the dereliction of mines and exploitation of communities. Above all, communities ought to have the right to decide on the type of development they want to benefit from.