MAC: Mines and Communities

South Africa: Mining firms 'fail to address complaints from communities'

Published by MAC on 2014-08-23
Source: Business Day

Mining firms 'fail to address complaints from communities', says report

by Pericles Anetos and Charlotte Mathews

Business Day

20 August 2014

GRIEVANCES ranging from water, air and soil pollution to lack of jobs are seething among communities living around coal mines in Emalahleni as mining firms' mechanisms to address residents' complaints are failing to do so, according to findings of a 2014 Bench Marks Foundation report released on Tuesday.

The report comes at a time when coal mining is coming under pressure: from weak prices and industry-wide labour unrest. Workers in platinum mining have recently returned to work after a five-month strike for higher wages and better living conditions.

The report by the Bench Marks Foundation, an independent church-based nongovernmental organisation dealing with communities and corporate social responsibility, focused on two companies with coal operations around Emalahleni: Anglo American Thermal Coal and BHP Billiton Energy Coal South Africa (Becsa). The findings were based on interviews and focus groups with community members.

While both companies had formal complaint mechanisms for communities to use, the report found that their systems were not being used effectively. Anglo Coal's engagement forums dealt mostly with employee-employer issues, which were relatively minor "housekeeping" complaints, but it acknowledged that potentially affected people were not aware of nor had been using the company's complaints mechanisms.

Bench Marks executive director John Capel said "Anglo American Corporation has an over-reliance on consultancies to engage with communities on its behalf."

Decision-making power

Consultancies were viewed by the communities as lacking in information, decision-making power and an understanding of mining effects or local conditions.

He said there was lack of confidence in Anglo-American among near-mine communities, partly reflecting the power imbalance between the corporation and those affected by it.

Anglo American Thermal Coal communication manager Moeketsi Mofokeng said it was impossible to comment on the report until Anglo Coal had had time to study it.

Bench Marks said although community engagement by Becsa was similar to Anglo Coal's and could be similarly criticised, Becsa's engagement with communities in Australia and South Africa was very different.

In Australia the group directly and continuously engaged with local communities, while in South Africa its engagement "cannot be described as other than philanthropic".

This could be because Australia's mining code was stricter than South Africa's, Bench Marks said.

Environmentally responsible

BHP Billiton vice-president of communications Lulu Letlape said the company would provide a comprehensive response once it had time to review the report in detail.

"At BHP Billiton being environmentally responsible and supporting our communities form a key part of our values," she said.

Mr Capel said the Department of Mineral Resources, industry and the Chamber of Mines should establish an independent national grievance and arbitration mechanism to which all mining-related complaints could be referred.

The Department of Mineral Resources, industry ... should establish an independent national grievance and arbitration mechanism



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