Revitalising distressed mining towns

Michele du Plessis

On Thursday, August 23, 2018, Government Communications issued a media statement regarding the “revitalisation of distressed mining towns and labour-sending on the release of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report, which was released two years after the actual hearings took place.

The report states: “When underpinned by good governance and a respect for the community and environment in which they operate, extractive industries harness the significant potential to transform a country’s social and economic development. Employment opportunities, increased investment and access to revenues can drive economic growth and reduce poverty at local, regional and national levels. However, often these opportunities are not realised and the negative impacts of extractive industries detract from and undermine the potential benefits and opportunities that accompany them.”

That said, the report further states that there is a distinct disjuncture between the national and local benefits of mining. It also states that many mining-affected communities are often worse off as a result of the negative social, economic and environmental impacts of the mining industry. Poor living conditions, low wages, inadequate consultation with the communities and the lack of accountability sparked wide-spread protest actions.

The Commission also finds that regarding land use management a considerable gap exists in the mining licence application process, where mining companies, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) appear to systematically disregard key pieces of legislation.

With regard to mining in sensitive and protected areas the Commission finds that there is an immediate need to give effect to the internationally recognised precautionary principle in matters dealing with environmental protection and strongly cautions against prioritising the immediate economic benefit of mining activities over the maintenance and protection of the environment, particularly in those areas that are crucial for sustaining ecological biodiversity, natural heritage, cultural significance and life.

The Commission further finds that it is unacceptable for mining companies not to provide detailed information on how communities can use the land after the mine closed down. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Environmental Management Programmes (EMPs) to clearly detail land quality and potential post-closure land use. Adequate financial provision must be made for rehabilitating damage to the environment and water resources. Licences should not be granted where long-term, sustainable land use cannot be guaranteed.

The Commission finds that the failure by mining companies, in close consultation with local government, to adequately address anticipated levels of migration and population growth in initial assessments undertaken during mining licence applications, directly contribute to inadequate planning and budgeting for housing at the local level. As a result, housing-related infrastructure including water and sanitation, electricity and roads is likewise jeopardised.

The Commission finds that the current census for determining water reserves does not include measures to account for anticipated migration and population growth and other potential impacts on the availability of water resources. Water Use Licenses must incorporate more stringent measures to better protect Communities’ water rights and the environment.

“The Government of South Africa is committed to promoting human rights and ensuring decent living conditions of mining communities.

The IMC (Inter-Ministerial Committee) will also put in place additional institutional mechanisms and projects to address challenges faced by distressed mining communities and labour-sending areas.  These initiatives include an array of socio-economic development programmes aimed at diversifying mining and labour-sending areas local and regional economies,” the media statement said.

Information from “Inter-Ministerial Committee for revitalisation of distressed mining towns and labour-sending on release of SAHRC report and subsequent media statement.”

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