By Fahdia Msaka and Gilbert Moela

About 300 community representatives from communities affected by mining activities will meet to discuss how mines have failed to honour their social and economic obligations in those communities where the land is left barren and unrehabilitated.

The Department of Minerals Resources and Energy’s (DMRE) has also shown a lack of appetite to hold the mines accountable.

The Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA)’s day-long summit to be held on 07 February in RH Hotel, Pretoria, is set to address significant issues within the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 (MPRDA) of 2002.

The summit aims to scrutinise the MPRDA’s limitations, pave the way for necessary amendments and highlight the need for the inclusion of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as a crucial element.

FPIC is a fundamental right that ensures that communities are adequately informed about and their consent is solicited prior the implementation of projects that may affect their territories.

DMRE has done a terrible job at facilitating sufficient public hearings and educating the masses about the MPRDA.

“The current legislation does not adequately address the social and environmental impacts of mining,” said Lindobuhle David Nene, a Paralegal of the Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA).

Nene added that amendments are necessary to ensure mining operations align with sustainable development goals, prioritising the well-being of affected communities and promoting environmental protection.

And without MACUA, many people who reside in communities affected by mining activities would have still been left in the dark about how the MPDRA leaves them vulnerable. To address this deficiency in literacy, MACUA organised workshops across the country to educate community members about why the MPRDA should be amended.

Mining-affected communities often find themselves grappling with the consequences of resource extraction without reaping the benefits. These communities often lack an understanding of mining legislation, which leaves them vulnerable to these mining corporations.

The MPRDA workshops are meant to “enable maximum participation,” explained Bongani Jonas, the coordinator of the Youth Affected by Mining United in Action (YAMUA). This is the youth wing of MACUA.

Political education remains a glaring issue and plays a critical role in holding citizens back, said Astone Chaole, MACUA’s branch coordinator in Nyakallong Allanridge, Free State.

Chaole emphasised that communities need to understand the details of mining legislation, Social Labour Plans (SLPs) and their rights to actively engage in decision-making processes.

Caption: The Makatikele Andries Malatji School in Boelang under Phalaborwa, Limpopo, remained unfinished in accordance with physical inspections that took place in 2022.

By advocating for the amendment of the act to incorporate FPIC, MACUA aims to empower affected communities so that their voices are duly respected in the decision-making processes regarding mineral and petroleum resource development.

This proactive approach aligns with the commitment to social and environmental justice, acknowledging the rights and agency of the communities impacted by mining activities.

Mines do not comply with their SLPs

Unlike the Mining Indaba that is dominated by the elites in Cape Town, the Mining Affected Communities (MAC) Summit has merits as it aims to champion voices of those who are often suppressed and neglected in national dialogues.

MACUA employs a bottom-up approach where the mining-affected communities will come with resolutions and give a mandate to MACUA to deliver a memorandum of demands on 08 February to DMRE’s offices in Pretoria.

In 2018, MACUA partnered with ActionAid South Africa to conduct a baseline survey to expose the systemic exclusion of mining-affected communities in mining-related decisions—both by the mines and the government.

The report conducted in over 10 mining affected communities and released in 2022 revealed that 79% of these communities were excluded from mining benefits while bearing the brunt of social and environmental impacts.

The MPRDA is a vital piece of legislation governing mineral rights. However, the social audit uncovered significant gaps, with 92.4% of respondents unaware of SLPs, despite clear regulations that when these SLPs are formulated communities must be consulted.

SLPs are legally mandated commitments by mining companies for community development.  One of the key findings is that many SLPs were formulated without the meaningful involvement of the mining affected communities and without applying the FPIC principle.

Caption: Sephaku Cement has failed to fulfil its legally binding obligations under its 2017-2021 SLP. Far from a simple delay, or a single incomplete project, but Sephaku appears to have largely ignored its SLP commitments altogether in Springbok Pan, North West.

This lack of meaningful engagement and consent has raised serious questions about the legitimacy of these plans and the impact they have on the affected communities.

MACUA’s advocacy for the incorporation of the FPIC will amplify the voices of mining-affected communities, an important shift towards a more community-oriented and responsible mining framework.

The MPRDA, if amended correctly, has the potential to address historical grievances, reduce conflicts and promote a more harmonious relationship between mining activities and affected communities.