In this opinion article Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection’s Dr Salimah Valiani argues that only in identifying, embracing and engaging in the heated debates underlying the tensions in South African mining can the country move on collectively from violence to a shared vision of the future.
According to the United Nations, 40% of wars in the past 60 years globally are rooted in resource extraction and the tension it produces. The 15-year struggle of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) against titanium mining in Xolobeni, in the Eastern Cape, is a South African example of such violence.
For now, tensions may be calmed, with the Pretoria High Court having granted the entire Umgungundlovu community – of which ACC is a part – the right to "free prior and informed consent (FPIC)". But the war is likely not yet over. The still unresolved March 2016 killing of ACC chairperson Sikhosiphie Radebe may have been the height of the violence in Xolobeni, but other types have been ongoing.
These include, police harassment of committee members – particularly during the night, death threats like that received by another committee leader Nonhle Mbuthuma just before Radebe was killed and a hit list naming other prominent activists.
In theory, FPIC represents the other end of the spectrum to resource wars. After decades of antimining protest around the world – particularly in Asia and Latin America – the World Bank adopted FPIC in 2004 as a process to prevent violence and help assure that extraction contributes to poverty alleviation. The African Union and others followed suit, with several West African resource-rich countries legislating FPIC.
But as the World Bank Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group pointed out in 2015, evaluating a decade of FPIC and related practices in West Africa, deeper focus is needed on the politics of participation in FPIC processes, economic and social impact consultations and community development agreements. Oppressive histories, unequal power relations and lack of capacity are cited as inhibiting citizen participation in mining-affected community consultation processes.
Such divisions have already surfaced in Xolobeni and other mining affected communities in South Africa and mining companies have played a key role in exploiting them. It remains to be seen how FPIC will unfold in South Africa. But, with the new legal ruling in Xolobeni, company tactics will likely shift as they have in several other countries, further complicating conflict.
To stem such conflict and deal with the many other forms of mining-related violence in South Africa, what is needed, arguably rather than more court battles, are fully participatory conversations across the country around the past and future of mining in South Africa.
How to shape full participation is itself a conversation that needs to account openly for the power imbalances underlined by the World Bank Fragility, Conflict and Violence Group.
The bigger picture of mining-related violence in South Africa includes the 1.6-million people of the country enduring air, water and land pollution because they live in informal and formal settlements on or beside mine dumps not being cleaned up by the mining investors responsible.
It includes the countless rural communities displaced by mining companies without consultation, compensation or rehabilitation, and those contending with broken promises of government and companies.
It includes the treacherous working and living conditions of small-scale and artisanal miners trying to survive in the context of few formal job opportunities.
It includes the disproportionate numbers of women in Rustenburg found by Medecins Sans Frontieres to be facing sexual violence years after the Marikana massacre, as well as many other forms of discrimination confronting female underground mineworkers nationwide.
It includes the ongoing low pay, low skill and arduous character of most mining work.
Perhaps most concerning – the silent violence of mining companies that continue to make investment decisions based on quick profit rather than a development vision that benefits the country as a whole.
The Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection’s (Mistra's) new edited volume, 'The Future of Mining in South Africa: Sunset or Sunrise', lays out these and other issues with the objective of provoking collective conversation.
Only in identifying, embracing and engaging in the heated debates underlying the tensions can South Africa move on collectively from violence to a shared vision of the future.
As for the future, the book offers several different possibilities as food for thought. These include, South Africa as a world leader in environment-friendly platinum-based industrial products; Africa industrialising through climate-friendly renewable energy hardware; a shift from mineral extraction to mineral recycling throughout the continent; and energy justice driven by ecologically sound public and community owned enterprises.
Mistra on Thursday launched its 'The Future of Mining in South Africa: Sunset or Sunrise' publication, in Pretoria.
For more information, go to www.mistra.org.za.
*Dr Salimah Valiani is senior researcher at Mistra and editor of 'The Future of Mining in South Africa: Sunset or Sunrise?'.