Minister Zwane was at pains to point out to the Media and the National Assembly during the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) Budget vote on Tuesday 19 April 2016, that despite the Minister having unilaterally released the Draft Reviewed Mining Charter (Mining Charter), that he was committed to “robust engagements with stakeholders”.
As proof of this commitment the Minister met with the Chamber of Mines (CoM) on the same day that the Mining Charter was published on the 15th April 2016 and met with the CoM again in a 2 day conference on the 26th and 27th of April.
The CoM told Miningmx that at a recent meeting between Zwane and Mike Teke, CoM president, it had been agreed that “… regular, in-depth engagement between the ministry and the industry should be pursued”.
All indications are that the DMR and the Minister are feverishly involved in extensive negotiations with the CoM and mining corporates and recently AngloGold Ashanti CEO Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (Venkat) emphasised that the negotiations that the Chamber of Mines was undertaking on behalf of mining companies were ongoing but confidential.
Venkat told Mining Weekly Online that the DMR had agreed to keep the discussions to date under wraps. But once they had been concluded, the chamber would make an announcement. He did disclose that AngloGold Ashanti had “high aspirations”, as the draft charter in its current form did not work for the industry. “Therefore, I’m quite confident that a modified version will be announced post the current negotiations,” Venkat was reported to have said by Mining Weekly.
By this account the Minister has kept his word and has indeed engaged in robust engagements with stakeholders. The only problem is that the mining corporates and their representatives are not the only stakeholders.
In an attempt to take up the Minister`s offer to robustly engage with stakeholders, the Coalition on the MPRDA (Mining Petroleum Resources Development Act), wrote to the Minister to request a meeting with him in order to articulate the aspirations and concerns of mining affected communities and civil society with regards to the Mining Charter.
The Coalition, formed in February 2015 in response to the creeping exclusion of mining affected communities from the legislative framework and specifically the amendments to the MPRDA, is a civil society formation that includes over 100 mining affected communities and 15 civil society organisations. The Coalition has embarked on a process of compiling a mandate from mining affected communities and their efforts will culminate in the launch of a Peoples Mining Charter (PMC) on the 26th of June this year.
The request to the Minister to meet with the Coalition so that they could articulate the outcomes of the PMC process to him and the DMR was at pains to point out to the Minister that the Coalition was not merely civil society organisations expressing their own views but was part of a process that sort to gain a mandate from communities who are at the coalface of the lived reality of mining and who were the intended beneficiaries of the Mining Charter. Surely any conversation about the mining industry that excludes those who suffer its worst excesses is fundamentally undemocratic and in violation of both the ANC`s own democratic aspirations and the constitutional mandate which compels the state to foster democratic participation.
The South African Parliament in its publication; A Peoples Government, The Peoples Voice quotes the ANC as follows: “Democracy for ordinary citizens must not end with formal rights and periodic one-person, one-vote elections. Without undermining the authority and responsibilities of elected representative bodies (Parliament, provincial legislatures, local government) the democratic order we envisage must foster a wide range of institutions of participatory democracy in partnership with civil society on the basis of informed and empowered citizens and facilitate direct democracy … social movements and CBOs are a major asset in the effort to democratise and develop our society.”
The South African Constitutional Court has expressed itself abundantly on the importance of participatory democracy and in its judgement of Doctors for Life International v The Speaker of the National Assembly and Others, the court was insistent that “the requirement to facilitate public involvement is a constitutional obligation”.
To the Ministers credit his office responded positively to a letter sent by the Coalition and a meeting was set for the 06th May. However by the 5th of May, and as the Coalition was preparing its submissions and finalising travel arrangements for its members from around the country, the writer was informed via sms that the meeting was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
Efforts to engage the Minister`s office about a new date for a meeting has come to nought and the only response the Coalition is able to elicit from the Minister`s office is silence.
While this snub and failure to live up to not only the values and constitutional imperative to consult and allow members of the public to participate in the matters that affect them directly is ample evidence of a Minister who is arrogantly dismissive of communities, but is also evidence of the
Ministers lack of integrity to meet his own commitment made in the National Assembly to robustly engage stakeholders. This is by itself sufficient to reach a conclusion on the Ministers bona fides with regard to the democratic process and his commitment to it and to the Ministers own integrity when dealing with those who hold no formal power.
The Ministers failure to live up to his commitment made in Parliament has certainly not indicated that the Minister understands his constitutional mandate and his Oath of Office as upholding the “honour and dignity” of the Office; and to be a true and faithful counsellor”.
Instead we have heard the Minister argue that despite the willingness of communities to protest for days, weeks, years and decades and the preparedness of community leaders to lay down their lives in defence of their rights, that mining affected communities will have to be persuaded by government to accept what they have rejected as mining would benefit communities through jobs and other avenues. “Because that’s what mining does – people’s lives get better”.
In a democratic country the Minister should at the very least allow those who hold different views to share this with him and to be provided with an opportunity to show to the Minister why such naïve statements belong in fairy tales and why it finds no resonance in the daily experiences of poverty, and environmental degradation of mining affected communities.
The Ministry of Mineral Resources, throughout its regular changes of incumbents, has been consistently opposed to engaging with mining affected communities and the Ministry has held a preference to engage with unelected traditional elites and mining corporates. This approach has done little for the mining affected communities over the last 22 years of supposed democratic rule.
Instead, their stubborn insistence to ignore community voices has seen a surge of violent and non-violent protests in and around mining operations. Accompanying this surge of protests has been increasing police intimidation and arrests of activists and the assassinations of leaders.
Not only is this not in keeping with the democratic aspirations and mandate of the constitution, it is also an incredibly short-sighted arrogance that keeps our country on the precipice of violent confrontation and which only serves the interests of mining bosses and politicians who benefit from their proximity to corporate interests.