Thousands of people see abandoned mines as their last hope and risk their lives for as little as R70 a day. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - When companies design development programs for areas near their operations in South Africa that are required to win government approval for licenses, local communities are often not consulted and have no right to veto the mines, according to a group that’s lobbying for stronger regulation.

In five case studies of mines ranging from platinum and coal extraction to clay, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, based at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, found that most communities were unaware of the commitments companies made in the social plans and in almost all cases those promises weren’t fulfilled.

The plans, along with legislation demanding greater black ownership of assets that account for about half of South Africa’s exports, are supposed to be part of the post-apartheid government’s plans to reduce inequality. Mines in South Africa are often ringed by shanty towns housing migrant workers, while environmental damage to surrounding areas regularly threatens the livelihoods of local communities.

“Our case studies, together with the testimonies of mining communities, would suggest that social and labour plans are not assisting in overcoming systemic inequality,” the study’s authors, Robert Krause and Louis Snyman, said. “There should be circumstances in which communities are to be accorded the right to say ‘no’ to mining.”

Apartheid impact

Mining legislation introduced in 2004 requires mines to establish and implement social and labour plans in order to be granted a license. It was intended to try and redress the negative impacts of mining during the apartheid era when many companies employed cheap black labour, often housed in single-sex hostels.

The case studies, in which the mines and their owners were not identified, said that the companies had failed to meet commitments ranging from building houses and childcare centres to funding bursaries.

Read also: The plight of communities near mines

In most cases the local community was unaware of the commitments the companies had made in order to secure the mining licenses, according to the study. Often they concluded agreements with traditional leaders without wider community consultation.

Legislation should be amended to ensure that there is more public participation in the design of the plans, there should be more transparency and the wishes of communities should be taken into account, the authors of the study said.

“Participation is a fundamental deficit in the minerals benefits system. Allowing further ambiguity in this area will perpetuate the further exclusion of communities from the mineral benefit stream,” they said. “The importance of making public participation part of formal hard law cannot be overstated.”