‘Nothing about us, without us,’ mining-affected communities demand in protest outside DMRE offices
Mining-affected communities from across SA gathered outside the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy head offices in Tshwane on Thursday, demanding that they be included in the decision-making about mining in their communities and that they be allowed to share the socioeconomic benefits.
Hundreds of people from mining towns across the country gathered in the blistering heat outside the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) head office in Tshwane on Thursday, 8 February 2024, to demand that they be consulted about what mining operations were allowed in their communities. “Nothing about us, without us,” they chanted
Addressing the crowd of 500, Mametlwe Sebei, president of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa, said: “The MPRDA [Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act], is not about empowerment of communities. It stripped the land we gained in 1994 of all the mineral rights, which have been handed over.”
Mining Affected Communities United in Action (Macua) and several supporting organisations were demanding that the MPRDA be scrapped, so that communities can have prior and informed consent about what mining operations take place on their land, and that they receive the social and economic benefits that are derived from these projects.
Meshack Mbangula, national coordinator of Macua, told Daily Maverick that the high levels of unemployment in mining towns was evidenced by the fact that hundreds of people travelled from Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Free State and North West to express their frustration to the DMRE.
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Left out of the law
The MPRDA, which governs the acquisition, use and disposal of mineral rights, includes a section that stipulates “consultation with interested and affected parties”.
But as Mbangula said, that doesn’t mean much because “Section 55 of the MPRDA gives power to the [DMRE] minister to make a decision. If the communities have said, ‘No, we don’t have mining, we have agriculture’ … Gwede [Mantashe, the DMRE minister] will come in and say, ‘Because of the law, continue mining’.”
Macau says that mining communities have been forcefully removed from their land without being consulted.
“You wake up in the morning, there’s a mine behind your next-door neighbour, and you’ve not been consulted,” Mbangula said. “And you cannot take the mine to court.”
Sebei said that through the MPRDA, “for 30 years they’ve [DMRE] facilitated a colonial-style land dispossession of those that were dispossessed under apartheid.”
By law, the state is the custodian of all mineral resources, even on private land, and Mantashe has the sole right to grant mineral rights and access – which has been a huge issue of concern for many landowners sitting on profitable minerals.
“They are exploiting our labour for the enrichment of them and their investors in London, in China, in Canada, in Australia and everywhere else other than our communities,” Sebei said.
“They are plundering our land, and we have nothing to show for all the hard work we put in it.”
Mbangula, who comes from Springs in Ekurhuleni and worked on the Ergo Mine for 10 years before he was fired for striking for miners’ safety and wage rights in 2010, said they wanted to scrap the MPRDA because they’d been trying to engage with the DMRE for many years and had marched many times, to no avail.
“We want something like prior and informed consent, because it forces them to consult and take consent of the people seriously. But as we speak, nothing of that nature is happening,” he said.
And when it comes to existing mines, community members said they were left out of the economic and social benefits derived from mining operations as well.
Mining companies are supposed to submit a social and labour plan to government departments as part of their application to mine. It is meant to outline job opportunities the operation will bring, any community-building projects they will undertake and the contribution their activity will make to the locals for several years.
Unfortunately, community members say, mining companies have not complied with the plans that are supposed to improve the lives of people in the area.
According to a social audit report by Macau in 2022, Systematic Exclusions: The Big Collusion, which found that out of the 10 mining companies audited, none completed their SLP commitments within the five-year SLP timeframe, 79% of communities affected by mining were excluded from the benefits of mining and the DMRE failed to follow up on reported non-compliance which resulted from the social audits.
Nosintu Mcimeli said she took a bus from her rural town of Nqamakwe in the Eastern Cape to attend the protest because she was tired of seeing her people not benefit from the huge resources and job opportunities that could be extracted from the sand mine around Xilinxa dam.
“I am here representing my community at large, but especially for people living with disabilities,” said Mcimeli, who runs NGO Abanebhongo Persons with Disabilities.
Tore up the memorandum
Siyabonga Vezi, regional manager of the DMRE, emerged from the department’s head office escorted by police and walked onto the stage as Mbangula read out Macua’s memorandum of demands.
But instead of handing the memorandum to him, Mbangula tore it up and dropped it at Vezi’s feet. Vezi then went back inside, while Gudani Tshikota, from Macua, shouted: “We have embarrassed them, just like they have always embarrassed us.”
Mbangula told Daily Maverick afterwards that he ripped up the memo because DMRE already had their demands – during his speech he said he assumed they already had “a whole drawer stuffed with them” – and they had never responded or engaged with them.
The DMRE did not immediately respond to a Daily Maverick request for comment, but its response will be added if received.
‘Vote out the ANC’
Themba Godi, leader of political party African People’s Convention, indirectly addressed the DMRE during the protest: “Why are you doing this to your own people? We can no longer cry about the boers, because you are in charge in those offices.”
Godi, a former member of the National Assembly, continued: “If you have a conscience, you must ask yourself, why should our people continue to suffer, 30 years down the line? If there are people protesting, it is Africans; if it’s people who have no water, it is Africans; if it’s people who have no roads, they have no housing, we have no jobs, it’s Africans.”
Then, addressing the mining communities gathered, Godi said: “The changes that we want to see happening will only come from us, not from Gwede Mantashe and those bureaucrats over there.
“The fact of the matter is, Gwede is a minister because he has been voted in by you. And he still looks forward to you voting for him to come back here.
“So you have the advantage in your hands … let us take the votes away from them. And use it differently.”
Not everyone in the crowd seemed to agree with Godi’s sentiment, but Nandi Mgijimi, head of Women’s Organising at Macua, told the crowd: “The ANC has bought this country down the drain. So don’t go and vote for the African National Congress.” DM