Communities living near the new $2-billion Fungurume copper/cobalt mine, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are up in arms against the gigantic mine’s developer, which they accuse of not delivering on its pledge to create substantial employment for locals or to implement community development initiatives.
This is according to Johannesburg-based Southern African Resource Watch (SARW), whose director, Dr Claude Kabemba, describes relations between the company and the communities as being “tense”.
“The communities believe that the mining company does not want to engage them simply because it does not want to accept their grievances and demands,” he tells Mining Weekly.
The mine, owned by Tenke Fungurume Mining (TFM) – a joint venture between Freeport McMoRan Copper (56%), Lundin Mining (24%) and DRC parastatal Gecamines (20%) – is located 175 km north-west of Lubumbashi and boasts one of the world’s largest copper/cobalt resources.
The Fungurume mine concession area totals 1 500 km2.
SARW, whose mission is “to ensure that natural resources extraction contributes to sustainable development”, also alleges that farming-dependent communities who made way for the mine development were not adequately compensated so that they could continue to have a livelihood.
“Farmers have to walk long distances to find an area where TFM will allow them to farm, but the yields from these areas are often mediocre, even though TFM does provide them with agricultural inputs, such as fertiliser, as compensation for the loss of their land.
“However, this programme is due to run for only three years,” says Kabemba.
Further, SARW says, artisanal miners have been denied access to a livelihood, while people living on the concession “have trouble collecting stone or wood for construction because everything – even natural resources like rocks and trees – belongs to TFM”.
Kabemba says SARW has assisted in creating a community resource watch at Fungurume that will be dedicated to solving the issues facing the community.
“It is a community movement for self-representation in an effort to engage the company and government to find solutions to its many socioeconomic problems. “The mining company takes the community for granted because it is not organised and cannot articulate its problems. “The capacity-building programme that we are putting in place is to help the community mobilise and organise itself to be able to claim its rights vis à vis the company and government. “The community could in the future consider taking court action against the company if it fails to respond satisfactorily to its demands,” explains Kabemba.
“Community members have tried to organise themselves but the mining company, which has close relations with key players in government, has consistently divided them to weaken their efforts.” This is why SARW has decided to build the capacity of the community. SARW has just trained 15 members of the Fungurume community who are going to train other members of the community. The hope is that this will culminate into a strong and well-organised community movement that will engage the company on a continual basis.
“As SARW, we will offer the community continued support for the next three years in the form of fiscal and technical support and we hope thereafter the community will be able to stand on its own and engage with the company on a more equal basis.
“The challenge that we are seeing across the board is that mining companies are not delivering on their corporate social responsibility (CSR). “Mining communities across the continent are now challenging companies to share the benefits of their minerals. This is why companies need to realise that CSR should not be public relations but should be part of the business and must be taken seriously.”
Meanwhile Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold has refuted SARW’s claims, saying current operations provide employment for about 2 800 full-time operational workers and 4 400 contractors, of whom 1 700 contractors are dedicated to Phase 2 expansion construction. About 98% of the operational employees are DRC citizens.
“We prioritise the hiring of new workers from communities closest to our operations but, owing to the shortage of skilled workers in the area, training and development programmes have been established to ready nonemployees from local communities for future work opportunities,” says the mining company.
Freeport-McMoRan says that, throughout 2011, TFM continued to provide support and capacity building in business development and management to small and microentrepreneurs to promote income-generating activities for the local community.
Further, it says, nine local entrepreneurs were equipped with skills to satisfy TFM’s procurement requirements and become competitive in the local market. These enterprises have provided employment opportunities for more than 400 workers in the areas of bag production, construction, painting, scaffolding and services in and around the concession.
Responding to criticism that TFM has blocked artisanal miners’ access to a livelihood, Freeport-McMoRan says such activity is illegal in private mining concessions.
Further, the artisanal miners may apply for jobs with TFM and participate in the community development programmes offered by the company.