MAC: Mines and Communities

Media statement by Bench Marks Southern Africa for Corporate Social Responsibility

Published by MAC on 2007-06-25

Media statement by Bench Marks Southern Africa for Corporate Social Responsibility

25th June 2007

Broken promises hit communities

A magnitude of broken promises made by the mines to the communities were unearthed in a study done on the corporate social responsibility programmes of the platinum mining corporations in the North West Province of South Africa,

The study, done by the Bench Marks Foundation for Southern Africa for Corporate Social responsibility, which is part of an international body, noted that safety and health issues were not being addressed to the extent that the mines have been reporting.

"Communities surrounding the mines and the mine workers have been hoodwinked into believing that what is being done for them by the mines is sufficient," says Right Reverend Dr Jo Seoka, Chairman of the Bench Marks Foundation.

The research, the main document of which runs to 200 pages, included well known mining houses - Anglo Platinum, Implats, Lonplats, and Xstrata - and was conducted over a period of eight months in 2006.

An audit done by Amplats mine's health and safety inspectorate in 1999 found that various corrective measures that would ensure predetermined safety objectives were in fact not being enforced or coordinated adequately. Moreover, safety information to ensure the implementation of preventive safety measures was not provided effectively. The Bench Marks Foundation study shows that these measures have still not been met.

"These pre-conditions partly explain the intolerably high mortality rate amongst mine workers," says Seoka "The recent closure of Anglo platinum's largest mine, Bafokeng Rasemone Mine - reported last week - due to their bad safety records where 17 people have died in the first six months of 2007 as opposed to 19 people for the whole of 2006, proves Bench Mark's research is not unfounded and underlines the urgency required for not only the mining houses, but also the authorities, to remedy the situation without delay."

All mines have social responsibility programmes, but these do not address the impact of mining on communities. The report says these are designed for media consumption - "corporate propaganda". Most mines also have social plans as required by the Mining Charter. However these are not readily available to the public and many are not the product of consultation with communities.

"There is in fact a general lack of transparency, a fact supported by our consultation with communities,' says Seoka.

The lack of awareness regarding their basic rights and limited access to necessary information results in an immense imbalance of power, wealth and knowledge that favours the big corporations. Most communities are unaware of the long-term impact on the environment, geology and the hydrology of the areas in which they live, and this is never explained to them.

The present relationship between mining corporations and affected communities is determined by historical conditions. Established top-down paternalistic management and lack of community engagement prevents corporations from adopting a necessary bottom-up approach in their interactions with communities.

Seoka adds: "The study offers a number of potential community projects that would turn the challenges from mining into entrepreneurial opportunities for marginalised communities and would empower them and suggests ways of addressing the issues raised by the research".

The Bench Marks Foundation's report strongly recommends that local and provincial government, non-governmental organisations and faith based organisations play a significant role in assisting communities in overcoming the imbalance of power, to ensure that safety measures are upheld and that mining companies should discuss in a transparent and open way, the long-term potential impact of mining to the environment and to communities.

Platinum mines lack transparency, communities suffer

Communities in the platinum mining industry region of the North West Province of South Africa are getting short changed in transformation initiatives by the mines concerned, according to John Capel, Executive Director of The Bench Marks Foundation of Southern Africa for Corporate Social Responsibility.

In a study done by The Bench Marks Foundation on the Corporate Social Responsibility programmes of the platinum mining companies in the North West, inadequacies in respect of health, labour, transformation, environmental effects as well as safety are severely criticised.

Although platinum mining in the region is damaging the environment, increasing the numbers of respiratory infections of people in the area and contributing to the numbers of informal settlements, all is not lost - for the study highlights areas in which communities can benefit from the boom in platinum mining.

"Our study recommends ways in which the mines, the community and the government can work together in order to address some of the issues identified. Many of the suggestions tackle ways in which the damage to the environment can be mitigated and turned into income generating ventures for the community," Capel explains.

One such project is reed and grass production and harvesting. This would tackle mine waste rehabilitation by absorbing the impurities from the polluted water. Communities would be able to manufacture products from the reeds and earn an income from their sales.

Another project is pomegranate and vegetable juice production as part of mine waste rehabilitation and use of under-utilised land. Pomegranate juice and vegetable juices are in high demand in the food, organic medicines and pharmaceutical industries. Pomegranates grow well on marginal soils, even on the soil of tailings facilities; this would provide employment and income for the communities.

An area of concern identified by the study is the lack of capacity at local and provincial government levels to independently monitor the impact of mining on surface water and air quality. This issue needs to be addressed by the government and monitored by non-governmental agencies, faith based organisations and the communities, according to Capel.

Another recommendation by the Bench Marks Foundation is that there should be transparency in the reporting by mines on dewatering and pumping out of underground water contained in aquivers, the pollution of underground water and on the perforation of dykes.

The study also discovered that the disabled are excluded from any policies for employment even though mining activities contributes to the majority of disabled cases. The Foundation says that the mining policies must be revised to include the disabled by offering employment and health benefits.

"Mine workers employed by sub-contractors are not considered as employees of the mining corporations. They are excluded from training development, advancement opportunities and health benefits," says Capel. "This creates tension between the various factions within the mines."

The living out allowance given to workers by the mines is another area that also needs to be rectified. At present, this allows for mine workers to live outside the mines in surrounding towns and has resulted in a flood of mostly 'foreign' (South Africans from provinces other than the North West and non-South Africans) workers into these areas. Due to an already long waiting list for housing, locals are often in conflict with foreign mine workers, resulting in xenophobia, vigilantism, mob violence and crime.

Although the mining corporations seem to be aware of the impact of HIV/AIDS on their workers and their dependants, they ignore the impact that the policies of migrant labour, sub-contracting, living out allowance and the lack of job opportunities for women (who then engage in sex services to earn a living) has on the health of the community. By just curing symptoms or approaching selected causes, the overall health situation in Rustenburg cannot be significantly improved.

Platinum mines plunder the environment

Water, one of earth's most precious resources, is becoming scarcer by the day and in South Africa is being polluted and affected by platinum mining activities in the North West Province. These actions impact on both surface and ground water, which ultimately affects the surrounding environment and the communities.

In a study carried out by The Bench Marks Foundation of Southern Africa for Corporate Social Responsibility on the corporate social responsibility programmes of the platinum mining industry, the complete lack of independent environmental monitoring capacity in this region is strongly criticised. In addition, the 200 page study says that there is very little independent air quality monitoring capacity at either local or district government levels.

"The rapid increase in the price of platinum has led to an increase in mining activities in the North West Province and has resulted in rapid population growth, urbanisation and pressure on the water resources in the area," explains John Capel, Executive Director of the Bench Marks Foundation.

Capel says that the mushrooming of informal settlements close to the mines is as a direct result of the increase in the number of mines in the area.

"This has further negatively impacted on the state and quality of surface water due to the fact that most communities are still using pit latrines and the bucket system."

The effect of tailings dams and construction activities on the Platinum Region is another cause for concern. Silt flows from tailings dams have an impact on the surface water systems in the area. The land degradation that occurs through soil erosion, construction activities and the destruction of vegetation causes highly suspended solid loads to find its way to water and may cause sedimentation.

The harmful effects of this can already been seen in the tests done in the Bospoort Dam, Klipvoor Dam, Roodekopjes Dam, Leeukraal Dam, Boskop Dam and Potchefstroom Dam, all of which showed high levels of total dissolved levels (TDS), caused by salinisation (a progressive increase in the concentration of salts in water).

Capel adds that mines pump out millions of cubic litres of underground water every year. In most cases much of this water is reused in mining activities.

"However, groundwater is critically important to the communities, especially the rural communities who rely on groundwater as their only source of water."

Amongst the effects noted in respect of the pumping out of water by mines are a change in the direction of flow of underground water, drying up of springs, seepage of heavy metals into ground water and serious drops in the levels of ground water.

The surrounding environment is being affected due to acid mine drainage from mine residue and waste dumps.

The study found that nothing is said by the mines in any of their reports of the proximity of villages and informal settlements to major waste facilities such as slimes dams and tailing dams. Potential leakages and the problem of duct impact on informal communities. The mines are silent on this and on the loss of productive land to waste facilities.

The report also notes that due to the increasing number of platinum smelters in the area, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions has increased, resulting in a dramatic increase in respiratory infections.

Capel warns: "Apart from the immediate harmful impact on the community, this increase in emissions will eventually give rise to acid rain. Some farmers in the area are already complaining that the dust and emissions from the mines and smelters are impacting on their citrus crops."

The Bench Marks report, however, offers various suggestions that communities as well as mines could implement in order to lessen the long-term effects of mining on the environment, such as reed and grass production as part of mine waste rehabilitation.

Many of these suggestions will see the communities benefiting directly since they will provide employment as well as generate income and alleviate the levels of poverty in the area.

While the negative affects of mining in the North West Province is becoming apparent due to studies such as the one done by the Bench Marks Foundation, the effects of gold mining on the groundwater and air quality in other parts of South Africa should be kept in mind. This will give an idea of what is in store for the North West province by platinum mining if they continue to plunder the area without mitigating the effects that they have on the land and communities.

But by implementing some of the recommendations made in the study, the cumulative effects of the increase in platinum production in the North West Province can be reduced and the communities, who have not benefited through the platinum boom in the past, can begin to do so.

The full report together with all the recommendations and photographs can be found on:

Bench Marks Foundation Southern Africa (The Bench Marks Foundation) is part of an international NGO and Faith Based coalition that also has partners in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, the USA, Colombia and the United Kingdom. Its partners in South Africa are the SA Council of Churches, the Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET), Industrial Mission of South Africa, and the Justice and Peace Department of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference. The Bench Marks Foundation is committed to providing leadership and advocacy on issues regarding benchmarking of good corporate governance, ethical and socially responsible investment as well as linking people and institutions committed to these ideals.


Issued by Quo Vadis Communications on behalf of Bench Marks Foundation of Southern Africa.


Media contact: Chantal Meugens

Cell: 083 676 2294 or 011 955 5033 or 011 487 0026


Client contact: John Capel, Executive Director, Bench Marks Foundation Southern Africa

Cell: 082 874 2653

Tel: 011 832 1743

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