Report launch: Unearthing the truth about mining in Sekhukhune
- Lee-Anne Bruce
Today, CALS and our partners launch our latest research report into mines operating in Sekhukhune and the experiences of communities living in the area
Today marks the launch of “Unearthing the truth: How mines failed communities in the Sekhukhune region of South Africa”. The report captures research into three mining companies operating in the Sekhukhune area of Limpopo and the experiences of local mining-affected communities. This research was undertaken by a team from Sekhukhune Combined Mining Affected Communities, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Amnesty International South Africa.
South Africa’s mining industry is built on a history of inequality and exploitation. Mining-affected communities continue to bear the greatest burdens of mining – from losing farmland to facing environmental harm – often without seeing the benefits. One of the key mechanisms designed to address this is the social and labour plan system. A social and labour plan is one of the documents required for a company to apply for a mining right which sets out how the mine intends to offset some of the impacts of mining and share some of the benefits. Projects could include, for example, upgrading local roads, building clinics, or providing access to water and sanitation in the area.
Unfortunately, a growing body of research has shown that the social and labour plan system has struggled to achieve its aims. Plans are often poorly designed without the input of the communities they are intended to serve, and many mines fail to comply with their commitments – all while the state regulator is unwilling or unable to hold them accountable for these failures. This is particularly significant in rural areas which remain mineral-rich but under-resourced.
Over the last two years, a team from Sekhukhune Combined Mining Affected Communities (SCMAC), the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and Amnesty International South Africa has conducted research into the social and labour plans of three mines and the experiences of communities in the Sekhukhune area. These mines include: Twickenham Platinum Mine, Marula Platinum Mine and Sefateng Chrome Mine. The findings of this research are captured in the report “Unearthing the truth: How mines failed communities in the Sekhukhune region of South Africa” which has been launched today. This is an example of community-led research with SCMAC being both directly impacted community members and co-authors of the report.
“This report adds to Amnesty International South Africa’s work with mining affected communities, including the research we released following the Marikana shooting,” says Marike Keller, Amnesty International South Africa’s researcher. “It also contributes towards the growing body of research on the impact of mining on communities’ basic human rights, such as water, healthcare and education.
The findings of the report show that, to varying extents, the mines are not complying with their legally binding social and labour plan obligations. For example:
- Twickenham Platinum Mine acknowledged in an annual compliance report that the mine had failed to complete a project related to water and sanitation in schools before its deadline. This project remains unfinished more than three years later. When pressed for answers about this lack of compliance, mine representatives acknowledged the delays in implementation, but blamed problems with procurement.
- Marula Platinum Mine has completed projects on electrification and water supply and reticulation. The company also claimed in one of its most recent reports that the mine had completed a project to build or rehabilitate a nearby road. However, site visits by the research team and interviews with community members could not confirm this.
- Sefateng Chrome Mine was only in partial compliance with its water support and school support projects. Information from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy indicates that the mine has not been submitting annual compliance reports. This would suggest that the company is not complying with its reporting duties in terms of national mining legislation, though mine representatives have denied this, noting that they have been submitting reports regularly.
- The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy failed to adequately regulate mines and carry out its oversight role to ensure the implementation of SLPs in the region. Researchers found that that the DMRE had a poor record management system and hindered access to information and that the DMRE was unable to enforce compliance with SLP reporting obligations resulting in communities feeling abandoned.
Researchers not only undertook site visits and an extensive review of documents related to the implementation of the mines’ social and labour plans, but also conducted interviews and focus group sessions with community members to get an idea of their experiences living in areas impacted by mining. The overall picture painted by participants in the study pointed to a range of negative environmental, social and economic outcomes, gender inequality and lack of adequate complaints mechanisms. While this research does not draw a direct link between individual mining operations and the challenges faced by communities, we conclude that the failure to implement social and labour plans is a compounding factor, which negatively impacts the enjoyment of human rights by communities, such as the rights to education, access to healthcare, livelihoods, and water.
To the mines, the research team recommends that they urgently comply with their legally binding social and labour plan obligations. This includes developing an action plan for completing all outstanding commitments in full and submitting all outstanding compliance reports. We further recommend publishing all social and labour plans and related reports. To the state regulator, we recommend developing and implementing an action plan to ensure the Department increases its capacity to monitor and enforce compliance with social and labour plan obligations. We further recommend that all reports related to social and labour plans are made public and available to mining-affected communities. Finally, we recommend reviewing the social and labour plan framework with affected communities, mining companies and other relevant stakeholders.
“Not enough is being done to hold mining companies accountable,” says Marike Keller of Amnesty International. “As with many issues in South Africa, we have great laws in place, but little implementation. What we expect and are hoping for going forward is that mining companies take their legal and social responsibilities more seriously, that they abide by the legal obligations pertaining to social and labour plans, and that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy holds them accountable and improves their monitoring and oversight capacities over mining operations. Most importantly, we are hoping for further engagement with all relevant role players and to see noticeable improvement in the lives of communities that are affected by mining.”
“Social and labour plans that are meant to benefit communities should belong to communities as agents of development,” says Robert Krause, researcher at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. “Instead, they are too often carried out in a top down manner with communities left in the dark regarding their progress and compliance status.”
For more information, please contact:
From the Centre for Applied Legal Studies
- Robert Krause (Researcher: Environmental Justice) at Krause@wits.ac.za
- Louis Snyman (Head: Environmental Justice) at Snyman@wits.ac.za
From Amnesty International South Africa
- Genevieve Quintal (Media and Communications Officer) at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sibusiso Khasa (Campaigner) at email@example.com
From Sekhukhune Combined Mining-Affected Communities
- Elton Thobejane (Chairperson) at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT SEKHUKHUNE COMBINED MINING-AFFECTED COMMUNITIES
Sekhukhune Combined Mining-Affected Communities (SCMAC) is a non-profit community-based organisation. SCMAC’s membership is made up of communities and individuals from various parts of the Sekhukhune district of Limpopo, whose environmental and human rights are affected by mining and related activities in the region. The focus of our work is the compliance of mining companies with their social and economic obligations.
ABOUT THE CENTRE FOR APPLIED LEGAL STUDIES
The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) is a civil society organisation based at the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Founded in 1978 by Professor John Dugard, CALS is one of the oldest organisations of its kind in South Africa. We continue to use a combination of research, advocacy and litigation to advance human rights and social justice in South Africa across a range of programme areas. Read more about our work at https://www.wits.ac.za/cals/ or follow @CALS_ZA.
ABOUT AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 10 million people which mobilises the humanity in everyone and campaigns for change so we can all enjoy our human rights. Amnesty International’s vision is of a world where those in power keep their promises, respect international law and are held to account. Amnesty International is independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion and are funded mainly by their membership and individual donations. Amnesty International believes that acting in solidarity and compassion with people everywhere can change our societies for the better.