In November 2018, last year, the High Court of South Africa made a landmark decision in the ongoing struggle between the Xolobeni community on the Wild Coast and the department of mineral resources.
The court ruled that the department cannot issue a mining permit for an area without the community’s consent.
This was a huge deal since for years, Xolobeni had been fighting off international mining companies who wished to establish titanium mines in the area.
Naturally, the decision caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth in some quarters who saw the decision as a critical blow to economic progress. Mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe said the decision would even pose a serious threat to mining in SA.
It would seem that the communities in question don’t share our minister’s concerns. An Action Aid South Africa report released on Tuesday, titled Mining in South Africa 2018: Whose Benefit and Whose Burden? sheds much light on why people are so reluctant for mines to be built in their backyard.
Action Aid interviewed 483 women and 275 men from eight mining communities across eight provinces and the results are telling. Of the respondents, a whopping 79% said they had not benefited in any way from their local mine.
The reasons they gave are pretty easy to guess. The biggest issue was the environmental degradation that inevitably follows mining such as air pollution, contaminated water supply, and the destruction of land that could have been used for more sustainable economic activity.
They also listed various health risks, such as tuberculosis and silicosis.
Now a common rebuttal is that mines provide economic upliftment to communities and allow them to improve their standard of living. The report quickly shoots this down hard.
According to the report, only 27% of respondents said that a member of their household had held a job at the mine at some point. Out of those, 41% said the employment was casual.
What that means is that 73% of people interviewed had never been employed by the mine that was supposedly meant to provide them with jobs.
There’s even more depressing statistics in the report, but I think you get the idea. The fact is that mining is a terribly destructive process that offers little to no benefit to the communities who until recently were pretty much forced to accept them whether they like it or not.
By ruling that mining can only happen with community consent, the high court has given massive power to those communities to take charge over their own fate and fight back against those who seek only to profit off their suffering.
Hopefully this empowers other communities around the country and forces these mining companies to seriously consider the impact they have on others.