By Christopher Rutledge
Today, the power of community agency was on full display, as years of struggle and organising, starts to yield its green shoots.
After more than a decade of focused engagements with an intransigent and arrogant state, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, and the department that he directs, came face to face with an inconvenient truth. One that Gwede Mantashe has been ducking since he took office in 2017.
The MPRDA is an outdated and misdirected tool of transformation.
In the summit convened by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to review the 19-year-old legislation, there was hardly a voice to be heard that could dare stand up and say what Gwede Mantashe so boldly said to the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy in 2018, as he sounded the death knell of the 2013 MPRDA Amendment Bill.
At the time, Gwede Mantashe stated that” there is nothing that inhibits the work of the sector with the current MPRDA” and thereby implying that the amendments to the MPRDA, which had been in process, should not be pursued, and should be allowed to lapse.
But today, not even Gwede Mantashe could muster such diabolical arrogance. In a feeble opening address, the Minister could not produce a vision, never mind an inspiring vision, for the sector, and blustered through his usual big-man jokes and snide remarks.
But as inputs unfolded, speaker after speaker started to lay bare the inescapable outcomes of a government and Party, who have failed to think beyond their own immediate interests, and who have been presiding over an increasingly lawless sector, where black lives are cheap, and where money rules the roost.
It was Tembeka Ngcukaitobi who neatly laid out the systemic nature of the failed transformation project of the MPRDA, when he reminded participants, that part of the problem was that the people who should be at the table, namely communities, are not.
Instead, men, and women in suits, who are disconnected from the realities faced by those who must bear the consequences of mining, are discussing issues best left to the directly affected.
Ngcukaitobi also reminded participants that not only has transformation in the sector not been broad based, it has been non-existent for communities who are subjected to a brutal law, that was drafted without their input and that would be better employed in the streets of London, than they do in the sprawling hills of Kwazulu Natal.
The full extent of the arrogance and western-business-friendly nature of Gwede Mantashe and the DMRE, was also visible in the make-up of the Summit participants.
The Summit was filled with “Captains of Industry”, officials and functionaries from various government entities, ,lawyers, and a smattering of supportive academics, while communities were picketing outside. Their voices relegated to second class.
And even when Gwede Mantashe came out to engage with the protesting community members, he arrogantly refused to hear what they had to say. While a memorandum was read to him, he flapped his hands, walked away, and dismissed communities showing all the contempt that he feels for them.
Despite the efforts of Gwede Mantashe, The DMRE, and even the Portfolio Committee of Mineral Resources and Energy, to deny community voices their rightful space in the discussions that affect them, the cognitive dissonance of an arrogant state, came face to face with its own contradiction.
The MPRDA has got to CHANGE.
It has been a long journey to drag the state, kicking and screaming to the realisation that they are failing in their constitutional obligations, and to bring them to the realisation that if they do not act, then events, and history will overtake them. For, if there is one thing South Africans know all too well….there is no stopping an idea when its time has come.
The time to change the mining laws in this country has come, and Gwede Mantashe and the state would do well to keep that in mind.
But, we should always keep in mind that the state is a powerful actor.
If we do not organise ourselves and ensure that community voices are united and strong, then, with all their power and money, business and its agents in government will continue to undermine every step we take,