Defend Truth


We need to find the courage and political will to reimagine mining in South Africa


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

SA is a tinderbox, and the mining sector are no angels. Politicking, lobbying and conniving with corrupt officials does not give the sector long-term stability. Neither will dishing out thousands of exploratory licences to new miners in a high-risk environment transform the sector. We need to do things differently. We need to find the courage to stand up, we need to listen to the people and their needs. We cannot allow another decade of declining mining output.

On 16 August, 2012, the mining sector drilled into the heart of our humanity, and into the hearts of scores of families when 44 miners were slaughtered at Marikana, the very ones that slave at the coal face to pay for the extravagant lifestyle the shareholders enjoy. The Marikana Massacre was the breaking point of this critical sector that employs close to half a million jobs and has been the backbone of our economy for the past 150 years.

It was the day when a nexus of corrupt interests of state and corporate, in a post-apartheid democracy, attempted to assassinate our dream of transforming a sector that has brutalised generations of black lives, poured billions of dollars into hands of white elites, and left many mining communities broken and poor.

What did we learn?

The Platinum belt offered us a unique opportunity to reimagine mining in South Africa. To change apartheid spatial planning and to create the new democratic and integrated cities that would be our future. All of this collapsed in an avalanche of human greed which has taken us back to the dark days of our past that we thought we had left behind forever.

State capture is a reality. Many of our Ministers, including the one, responsible for this important sector of mining, are more accountable to a cabal of corrupt oligarchic families that resemble the robber barons of yesteryear rather than our people.

And as this illicit relationship of money and politics tightened its noose around the economy, an abusive establishment of middlemen emerged – a criminal horde of brutal shock troops who unabashedly corrupt some of the most senior levels of the state from local to national.

SA is a tinderbox. There is deep anger, hostility and restlessness in the land. Tribal and racial tensions and xenophobic violence are skin deep. It does not take too much demagoguery to inflame emotions that spill over into loss of lives and property.

At the same time, we are not unique in the world. We see the rise of fascism in the United States, where an emotionally underdeveloped President has his finger not just to rant on his Twitter line but also the ability to press a red button and start a nuclear wall that will incinerate the world. In Europe, we see the rise of rightwing populism. And here in our beloved country, the syndrome of the ‘God President’ since Mandela.

How do we go forward understanding that the conflict of the Platinum Belt is in many ways a microcosm of our country?

Well. A good start is listen to the People. The *Mining Dialogues process revealed these deep insights.

I have 40 years staying around this area: 10 years in Wonderkop and 30 years in Skierlik. I am now 60 years old, not working and without any hope to get a job. There is no electricity, and no accessible roads in this place. The land belongs to a certain landlord. When it rains, it is so muddy, there is mud inside [the shack] and mud outside. There is dirty water everywhere … and shit … our children live in filth. We don’t have even one street light in the settlement … it is dangerous … miners are robbed and women are raped.”

What do the People want?

They all say the same thing. They want the mine-owners to work with them, and so must the government. In fact, the local government ignores their very existence. They want to be united, to stand up, to grow food, build houses, roads and create their own jobs through a public works programme. And all of them say: “We want to change our lives.

They want to rebuild trust with the mining companies but “the mines keep their books secret but talk about losing money”, said one miner. “And they don’t tell us how much they give the local Bapo Tribal Authority, so how can it be accountable?”

In essence, the people want legitimate projects, and work. The huge corporate social investment (CSI) spending of the mining houses can help deliver the ‘better life’ we promised our people in 1994 if we work around a common vision. The community asks if the mines can pool this budget in a “Development Fund” that partners with state agencies and civil society in pursuit of a coherent and sustainable social development strategy? This fund could be a joint effort between mining houses and the State, managed by independent professionals with social development expertise.

Is anyone in the mining companies, government, unions and community organisations listening?

Everything we need to build a social compact from bottom up is there. It requires political will. We need to ensure that we navigate around self-appointed gatekeepers and talk directly to legitimate community organisations that represent the people.

It will take serious and honest commitment on all sides to rebuild the trust that has been shattered. And that involves us all as citizens. There are no shortcuts or simplistic solutions.

It is clear that 1994, our first liberation was about politics, deracialising our country and creating a Constitutional democracy. We succeeded but at the heart of which was a recognition of the legacy of apartheid, and the means to redress those wounds. We had to deal with issues of economic transformation, land, hunger and access to quality housing, health and education.

That dream has been deferred. Fourteen million people will go to bed hungry tonight. Fifty-five million South Africans are poor and one in three are jobless, many surviving on a minimal social grant. Our leaders during the last 23 years have forgotten that they are there to serve the People. They have disembowelled our soul to feed their personal greed.

And many of you in the private sector have been complicit in the looting of public resources. Companies like KPMG, Bell Pottinger and McKinsey have broken their code of ethics and been party to the stealing of billions from our national fiscus and weakening our democratic foundations.

The mining sector has not been the angel you try to paint. They need to genuinely embrace the principles of transparency and especially listen to the people digging up the wealth you benefit from kilometres underground.

Is this easy? Hell no. But we need to do things differently. We need to find the courage to stand up. We cannot allow another decade of declining mining output.

It’s clear that politicking, lobbying, conniving with corrupt officials does not give the sector long term stability. Neither will dishing out thousands of exploratory licences to new miners in a high-risk environment transform the sector. Clearly, initiatives like the *Mining Phakisa and *Mining Dialogues are important starting points. How do we understand the ‘upstream’ opportunities for communities in producing food and inputs that a mine needs and ‘downstream’ opportunities of beneficiation?

This new vision, approach and strategy has to leave no-one behind, ensure a genuine empowerment from bottom up and build painstakingly and patiently the trust between the stakeholders especially mining companies, communities and government.

As Mandela wisely said. “It always seems impossible until its done.” We live in a beautiful country, with beautiful and generous people. We have walked away from the precipice before. We can find the COURAGE to do so again. And in our beautiful journey of life COURAGE IS FREE. DM

* Mining Dialogues is a process convened under the auspices of Kgosi Leruo Molotlhegi from the Royal Bafokeng to provide a platform for mining communities, mining houses, unions and civil society. Mining Phakisa is a process convened by government of stakeholders in the sector to work out a plan.

This is an edited copy of the speech Jay Naidoo delivered to the Johannesburg Mining Indaba on 5 October, 2017.


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