As strikes in mining communities throughout South Africa continue, the unhappiness that was so apparent during the Marikana strike will not go away until the root causes of discontent is addressed, says the Bench Marks Foundation.
Bench Marks says that government has a large role to play in addressing inadequacies in mining in the country. It needs to take a more assertive approach to ensure that mining is done more responsibly. Government was found wanting and lacked a credible response especially around Lonmin and Marikana, only to deal with the situation in the most forceful way possible.
"We need to ask why such a forceful response was taken, and why 34 workers were killed by the state," says John Capel, executive director of the Bench Marks Foundation. "These workers were not even destroying property whereas the truck drivers' strike has seen trucks being destroyed. None of these workers have been dealt with in the same way as the miners were. It begs the question: in whose interests was government's response to Marikana directed to?" Politicians on boards
Capel says that one of the main issues that they found in their research was the continued courting of political influence by mining companies. Prominent politicians are still deployed to boards and to senior management or are shareholders. "This certainly raises questions as to government's bias towards the mining companies and to why there is no real accountability in this sector."
The involvement of government officials in mining companies is undermining democracy, causing tensions and conflict and is undermining the trust of communities in the various spheres and institutions of government. Government needs to realise that although some may wish to place the blame for all the problems in the sector on the mining companies, the buck actually stops with government.
"Government needs to actively push reform in the sector in order to avert future turmoil and volatile situations such as we've seen in the last two months," Capel says. "Private companies operate to maximise profits and socialise costs, thereby increasing shareholder return. This is unacceptable as communities bear the costs and mines need to recognise they operate on community land. They are there only because the community allows them to be and this can easily change as communities are no longer prepared to accept all the negative impacts pushed onto them."Recommendations
The organisation also recommends that the government:
- ensures that local mining communities are included and given representation in all decision-making processes that affect their lives;
- gets mining corporations to not only consult with interest groups that usually receive some kind of benefit, but also to engage with various impacted groups and genuine representative community organisations;
- gets the Green Scorpions to investigate emissions per operation to see if they are in compliance with the law; to penalise mining operations that do not comply with legislation, regulations or waste management standards; to make their report public; increase the level of fines to make their use more effective and deterring and to actively pursue corporations that are not adhering to the laws and regulations and prosecute them;
- actively investigates the appalling conditions under which communities near mining operations live and strives to reduce the number of slum areas as per Millennium Development Goal, target 7, to which it subscribes;
- appoints a special medical rapporteur to investigate the extent of occupational diseases such as platinosis on the miners and on those living in close proximity to mines and processing plants in particular and the effect of the burden these illnesses are placing upon the public sector; and
- investigates the facilities available for women in the mining workplace, the conditions under which they work, and the relations between male and female workers in the mining workplace.
"By taking heed of our recommendations, it is our sincere belief that the basic human rights failings and violations we identified when we did our first study in 2007 and over the years can be addressed," says Capel.