Africa ‘is resource-rich but people stay poor’

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Ann Crotty

Although Africa hosts about 30 percent of the world’s total mineral reserves and an even higher portion of the global deposits of diamonds, vanadium, manganese, platinum, cobalt and gold, the quality of life of citizens in sub-Saharan Africa ranks among the lowest in the world.

This state of affairs was highlighted in a statement released at the launch of the fifth annual meeting of the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) in Cape Town yesterday.

“Most communities involved in exploration have poor access to running water and electricity, community roads are neglected, and health and education infrastructure are inadequate for primary care and schooling,” the AMI added.

AMI brings together community and labour representatives from regions around the globe that are affected by mining activity.

In his opening address Godfrey Kanyenze, the director of the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe, questioned the appropriateness of the “Africa rising narrative” that has gained in popularity in recent years.

“The 21st century has been declared the African century,” Kanyenze said, warning about “false dawns”. He referred to fears that foreign investors will exploit locals and that the continent will not be lifted (out of poverty) but looted.

Delegates heard calls for mining firms to be more effectively taxed to ensure benefits from mineral resources were more widely spread.

“Mining operations must benefit the countries where they operate by creating jobs, generating revenues and then reinvesting in health, education and infrastructure,” said Thembinkosi Dlamini, the governance manager at Oxfam South Africa. “Instead mining companies and governments have too often been externalising profits and internalising environmental impacts.”

Kanyenze noted that countries with the richest mineral resources, such as Angola, Botswana and South Africa, report the highest levels of inequality in the world.

He said that in many resource-rich countries the higher export prices often only benefited foreign-owned oil and mining companies and small economic and political elites. These groups benefited at the expense of the public.

Kanyenze said that while there was much talk of foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into Africa, most of this had focused on a limited number of countries and on natural resources. He noted that Africa’s share of global FDI had in fact declined since 1970.

Commenting on yesterday’s statement by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, that the government was aiming to be in a position to grant licences, including mining rights, water and environmental licences, within 300 days, John Capel, the executive director of Bench Marks Foundation, told Business Report that this raised concerns about the vigour of impact studies into mining activity.


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