Consult with communities, Bench Marks tells mines
The obligatory public meetings around mining projects are more or less pointless unless they get backed up with funding and independent expertise on the side of affected communities, a new report by the Bench Marks Foundation said this week.
Although there were formal mechanisms for people living around mines to lodge complaints about existing mines and to raise concerns about new ones, these really amounted to “symbolic formalities”, said the nongovernmental organisation in its ninth Policy Gap report this week.
It was focusing on Anglo American and BHP Billiton’s coal mines in Mpumalanga.
What is needed is an “independent national grievance and arbitration mechanism” to which the public can direct complaints against mines, including commonplace concerns around blasting damage to houses, pollution and damage to roads.
The public consultation meetings that were held as part of the obligatory environmental impact assessments for new mining projects and water use licences were also undermined by a “complete imbalance of knowledge and power” between companies and communities, said the Bench Marks Foundation.
The answer was an “independent central fund”, from which communities could draw to appoint their own legal and technical experts during consultations, said the foundation.
The grievance mechanism and the consultation fund should both be funded by contributions from the mining industry as well as the government, but not controlled by them, it said.
This week’s report criticised the apparently widespread treatment as a formality of the legal process for getting water licences for coal mines.
Long before a mining project had its water licence, banks already funded the mine and Eskom already contracted coal from it, said the foundation.
The Bench Marks Foundation specialises in collecting and publishing the concerns of communities near mines.
It has been a key critic of platinum mines’ policies towards communities, and in 2007 sounded the alarm about the perverse outcomes of platinum mines’ livingout allowance years before it became common wisdom.
The use of these allowances as a way to phase out hostels as required by the Mining Charter resulted in mushrooming informal settlements around mines and is now widely accepted to have contributed to the unrest resulting in the Marikana massacre.