The mining sector is central to a growing number of African economies. Since 2000, most foreign direct investment into the continent has been directed to the mining sector. Many African governments believe that mining-led growth is one of the few opportunities to develop and catch up with other countries. But while the polarised debate about whether large-scale mining is a “driver” of development or a “curse” continues, the view from the mostly rural communities that have been directly affected by mining seems to be clear. Despite the jobs that mining may provide, it is contributing very little to improve the overall living conditions at the local level. Instead, host communities face many negative impacts, including resettlement, environmental pollution, health hazards and the disruption of livelihoods.
Cooperation among stakeholders in the sector is generally poor. Groups that represent affected communities are hardly recognised as stakeholders with legitimate interests and the right to a place at the bargaining table. Where engagements do take place, the terms are defined by actors external to the community. It is, of course, important to acknowledge that communities are not homogenous: they can include mineworkers and those who depend on agriculture or fishing for their livelihoods. They also change over time as mining projects move into their areas. Inclusivity and an appreciation by all stakeholders of the socio-cultural context and power relations at play within an affected community are therefore of key importance. Of particular interest should be the experience of women, given the strongly patriarchal nature of power structures at the community level throughout Africa.
Where schemes to increase the economic participation of communities have been introduced, such as community share-ownership trusts, ordinary members are often misrepresented by local traditional elites who follow their own narrow interests. The situation is further compounded by a lack of capacity and/or political will on the part of governments, both at national and local level, to act in the interest of their citizens. Although the policy and regulatory environment has progressed, and an increasing number of companies have also committed themselves to improving their environmental and social footprint, the gap between rhetoric and reality is wide.
Just like any other citizens, the very least that members of mining-affected communities should be able to expect, from both the public and private sectors, is that their rights be respected and remedial action taken where these have been violated. This sounds very simple, but it is sadly a far cry from the reality experienced by mining-affected communities across the continent.
In response, an increasing number of communities have begun to build their capacity for meaningful engagement with external actors, such as government agencies and mining companies. With this edition of Perspectives, the Heinrich Böll Foundation explores some of the approaches and instruments that communities and their NGO partners have developed to create room for community-centred stakeholder participation, and to champion community interests and rights.
We would like to dedicate this edition of Perspectives to slain South African community activist Sikhosipi “Bozooka” Rhadebe who as chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee dedicated much of his life to the fight against the planned mining of his ancestral land. May he rest in peace. For more information please click here>>.