By Fahdia Msaka and Magnificent Mndebele

About two weeks ago, the Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) held its inaugural summit in Pretoria. This summit— followed by a march to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE)— took a different shape and format from the African Mining Indaba.

The latter, which took place in Cape Town on the same week, albeit unsurprising, was coated under the emblem of investment and boasting the economy.

Its agenda was clear: advancing capitalists’ aspirations and extracting mineral resources without any regard for the people whose land is left barren, the very people unrepresented in the Mining Indaba.

However, the form and shape that MACUA’s summit took is aptly reflected on the fact that it featured voices of about 200 representatives from marginalised communities affected by mining activities.

MACUA’s summit truly reflected the state of mining impact on impoverished communities who are left behind from the wealth generated on their lands. We asked different people within the movement of what they liked about this successful summit, and the answer pointed to varying entry points of what success looks like.

“One of the aims was to counter the annual Mining Indaba and to then present a summit that was going to be the only thing people are talking about,” said Gudani Tshikota, the project lead for the summit and the march.

Tshikota said the summit and the march served their respective purposes, considering the attendance, social media presence and the several interviews that MACUA earned from national, provincial and community media outlets.

Part of making the MAC Summit the same week as the African Mining Indaba was to show that marginalised and affected mining communities are not represented in the African Mining Indaba or its cousin, the Alternative Mining Indaba.

Yet, all these mining conglomerates have legal obligations to fulfil their Social and Labour Plan (SLP), which most of them have failed with distinctions. They want to speak about how they have “uplifted” those communities, yet they shy away from speaking directly to those communities they claim to have improved their livelihoods.

The marginalised communities affected by mining activities genuinely needed a platform where their challenges could be heard. If this is one of the criteria to gauge the success of the Summit, then it really was an enormous success.

One of the commissions in the Summit where community representatives were discussing issues affecting their communities. Image taken by Magnificent Mndebele.

MACUA managed to drive and shift the narrative to amplify voices of the marginalised communities. This assertion is merited by the positive coverage MACUA’s summit received from Newzroom Afrika 405, SAFM, SABC News 404, Thobela FM, Power FM, Vaaltar FM in Taung, Ligwa FM in Ermelo, Moretele FM in Hammanskraal, Vuka Online radio, GroundUp, The Citizen, Daily Maverick, Tshwane Talks, Mukurukuru Media, and more.

In the commissions, there was something about the authentic and organic nature of the discussions and processes. It allowed communities to articulate their issues freely and without fear. This organic authenticity ensured that there was a lot of inclusivity and representation. Some of the presentations and raw authentic opinions voiced by participants were unsettling, and it made people uncomfortable, but that was good.

This is exactly what it should look like if an event aims to champion voices of those who are underrepresented. Sometimes we are guilty of having a romanticised idea of what the working class looks like.

This romanticisation is often due to the uncritical replication of corporate style events characterised by opulence and formality that is eschewed by working class movements. But the MACUA summit was nowhere close to being opulent and instead provided a transformative space where the marginalised could claim and own their agency.

Monica Kebualemang Ngcobo is an elderly woman from Kagung village, Northern Cape. She says they are surrounded by 36 mines yet none of them have succeeded to honour their SLPs— a bunch of empty promises.

Mining affected communities like Kagung rarely receive help from legislations such as the Mineral Resources and Petroleum Act (MPRDA) that governs the use and disposal of mineral rights.

“The summit worked in our favour because we did tell those people from the DMRE that the MPRDA must be scrapped or amended because it doesn’t suit us as communities,” Ngcobo said.

She has seen the extent of neglect by mines. She recalls an incident that happened last year when one woman in the village woke up in the early hours of the morning to fetch water from a nearby stream.

Monica Kebualemang Ngcobo delivering a speech representing women outside DMRE’s offices in Pretoria: image taken by Magnificent Mndebele.

Ngcobo reiterates that they find themselves in such precarious conditions simply because Kumba Iron Ore mine based in Kathu, 30km away, has failed on multiple occasions to fulfil its SLP commitments.

Ngcobo recalls that what the woman found when she returned from fetching water was unthinkable. Two of her daughters aged nine and 14 were raped.

The 14-year-old was infected with HIV and got pregnant in the process. These are the real experiences of neglected communities. Ngcobo emphasises that MACUA’s summit made it possible for her to express these conditions with other activists.

“For my town, I got an opportunity to speak about the challenges women are facing in the mining affected communities,” said Refiloe Mofokeng, a branch coordinator from Merafong Local Municipality in the West Rand of Gauteng. “[We are advocating] for job equality so women can get the same opportunities as men without having to sleep with someone else.”

Mametlwe Sebei, the president of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa, said the summit was a historic step in the sense that it is the first time in the country mining affected communities organised themselves, independent of any other external parties, to tackle the hurdles that bedevil their communities.

MACUA had invited several political parties to listen to the concerns of the marginalised communities however, many of those parties, especially the ANC and other leading opposition political parties, cared extraordinarily little about what the marginalised communities had to say.

it was a bold move that MACUA dared to invite political parties because “corporate funders will not want the working class to bother themselves” with the question of political economy, Sebei said. “The question of power is a question that must be discussed at the [Africa] Mining Indaba exclusively but not by the working class…This is exclusively reserved for the wishes, the aspirations and interests of the bourgeois class.”

Fahdia Msaka is an intern at MACUA’s media and communications department.

Magnificent Mndebele is the media and communications manager at MACUA.