In an open letter to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, the Sekhukhune Combined Mining-Affected Communities (SCMAC), the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and Amnesty International South Africa (AISA) raised concerns about the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s (DMRE’s) failure to hold three mining companies accountable for their noncompliance with aspects of their social and labour plan (SLP) obligations, resulting in human rights violations including the rights to access healthcare, water, education and livelihoods.
On February 22, the three organisations released a report titled ‘Unearthing the Truth: How the mines failed communities in the Sekhukhune region of South Africa’, in which it was said the DMRE had failed to hold two platinum mines accountable for their non-compliance with aspects of their SLP obligations.
Additionally, a chrome mine was also found to be non-compliant in terms of its SLP obligations and has also not been held accountable.
The report stated that the DMRE hindered access to information, as the research team experienced significant difficulty in accessing documents held by the department.
The report also accused the DMRE of inadequacy in terms of the measures taken to give effect to the South African Human Rights Commission's directives in its 2016 report titled ‘National Hearing on the Underlying Socio-economic Challenges of Mining-Affected Communities in South Africa’.
Moreover, the report found that there was a lack of capacity within the DMRE to enforce compliance.
“Our research team interviewed community members who recounted that there was very minimal presence of, and contact with, the DMRE in their communities. The department was not perceived as an institution that looks after the rights of communities, nor one to hold mining companies accountable to their SLP obligations,” the open letter, published on May 9, stated.
The letter went on to say how interviewees described an instance in which explosive material that had not removed by a mining company led to injuries suffered by young children playing in the area.
To date, no one has been held criminally or civilly responsible, nor has adequate compensation been provided, the organisations stated.
The open letter states that many attempts had been made at writing to Mantashe’s office, as well as to the DMRE on numerous occasions over the past year, but there has been no response.
This included a total of 18 follow-up emails and 14 unanswered phone calls in 2021. The most recent letters were sent to Mantashe’s office and the DMRE on February 22 and follow-up emails were sent on March 11.
“We have yet to receive a response,” the open letter stated.
SCMAC, CALS and AISA said they called on Mantashe, once again, to develop and implement an action plan outlining the steps that will be taken to ensure that the DMRE increases its capacity to monitor SLP compliance, with clear timelines for the implementation, and to take any necessary action to ensure a more effective enforcement of the provisions of the SLPs.
The three parties also called on Mantashe to require, by policy or legislative measures, that all company SLP reports to the DMRE are publicly disclosed and made available and accessible to employees, communities and other stakeholders.
Finally, Mantashe was called upon to review the human and financial resources available to the DMRE to monitor and enforce SLPs and increase these resources to enable effective monitoring.
“As several heads of State, investors and stakeholders gear up for this year’s [Investing in African] Mining Indaba in Cape Town, we call on you to keep the rights of mining-affected communities in mind and address the issues raised above,” the letter concluded.