ActionAid South Africa (AASA) and Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) hosted a historic conference under the banner, Artisanal miners are not criminals, which brought together Zama-Zama/Artisanal miners from around the country, members of MACUA, Women Affected by Mining United in Action (WAMUA) and the South African Green Revolutionary Council (SAGRC). The Department of Mineral Resources regrettably withdrew the participation at the last minute while the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation failed to respond to numerous invitations and the South African Police Services also failed to respond to efforts to include them in this important conversation.
The conference noted that it was more than a symbolic expression to host the conference on the same day that over 69 people lost their lives protesting against the harsh Pass Laws that characterised the social relations of inclusion and exclusion of Apartheid.
Christopher Rutledge of ActionAid South Africa, in his keynote address, noted that “it is ironic and a sad reflection of the unchanged reality of the vast majority of South Africans, that 56 years after the Sharpeville Massacre and 22 years after the dawn of a democratic South Africa, that the social relations of inclusion and exclusion, is still a lived reality for those honest, hardworking unemployed citizens who eke out a living from minerals which at a constitutional level belongs to all its citizens.”
The conference heard from artisanal (zama-zama) miners from across the country, often in heart rendering emotional tales, about the daily struggles they face where the police who both enforce an unjust law and who extract bribes from the marginalised and criminalised artisanal workers are not viewed as a source of protection from the predatory exploits of criminal syndicates but as yet another danger to avoid when sleeping in the open veld under threat of constant violence. One example of this was recorded in the Northern Cape in which a desperate mother sleeps in the open veld, summer though winter, panning the dry dust of the Kalahari. She recounts how she had discovered a diamond after months of toil, with limited water and food, and how she was robbed of the diamond, leaving her once again destitute and with no recourse to the law. Another occasion, she told of how her young daughter was raped in the field after her daughter had come to help her mother during the school holidays. Needless to say, no case was brought to the attention of the Police, because the other miners warned her that should she report the incident to the police then she would be jeopardising the entire community of hundreds of miner`s livelihoods.
Artisanal miners told of how conflicts emerge with the community who are inadvertently drawn into conflicts with the artisanal workers both as a direct result of artisanal miners exclusion from the legal frameworks and the perception that because of their illegal status that artisanal miners are easy targets who can be swindled and who then have no recourse to the legal system.
During the conference artisanal miners spoke of the way in which their “illegality” served to create divisions among the Artisanal miners along tribal lines and the deep and of the dangerous levels of mistrust that underpinned a life lived in the shadows and outside the protection of the state.
For many Zama-Zama artisanal miners, mining is the only way out of the unemployment, poverty and desperation that characterises the millions of households that are not able to put a regular plate of food on the table, and the conference noted that the current legislation as set out in the Mineral Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), continues to exclude South Africans from benefitting from the wealth of the land and that the current legislation only serves foreign investor interests while its own children starve every day.
The conference thus resolved to:
- Establish a Task Team of Artisanal Miners, community members from MACUA, and experts to take forward the resolutions of the conference.
- To work together to hold community meetings between Zama-Zama artisanal miners and communities to build relationships and trust and to speak about the common benefits that could be derived from cooperation rather than strife.
- To encourage communities and artisanal miners to organise joint sports, cultural and fun days.
- To call on Zama-Zama miners, through pamphlets and face to face meetings, to organise themselves in guilds, cooperatives and collectives in order to work towards regulating the industry in order to foster peace among miners.
- To organise a joint Zama-Zama artisanal miners and community march on the Department of Mineral Resources to call for a revision of the MPRDA to include artisanal mining as a legitimate and lawful activity within the confines of fair and just regulations.
- To notwithstanding the withdrawal of the DMR at the last moment to continue to seek opportunities for engagement and discussion towards finding a long term sustainable solution to the intractable problem of poverty and exclusion in the sector.
- To draw into the campaign a broader pool of academics and experts to develop proposals for an alternative legislation and to broaden the scope and intensity of research around the question of artisanal mining.
- To work with Zama-Zama artisanal miners to develop their demands to be included in the mining affected communities Peoples Mining Charter, which will be adopted on the 26 th June 2016.
- To call on organised labour formations to take up the discussion of artisanal miners and to join hands with the artisanal miners and communities in working for a just inclusive legislation.
- To call on the Media to refrain from characterising hard working artisanal miners as criminals and to join the conversation in finding long term sustainable and inclusive solutions.
- To work towards a National/Regional Conference by November 2016 which will contribute to finding a solution to what is not only a South African problem but indeed a global one.