THE THRUST of this year’s Alternative Mining Indaba, or AMI2015, in Cape Town is that of helping mining communities take up the fight against transgressing mining companies.
Participants in the conference are helping mining communities on a number of fronts, including teaching them to test water quality and measure air pollution.
Other programmes include how to look out for environmental degradation, how to prospect for minerals and how to hold mining companies true to promises when it comes to employment.
Mining communities are also being provided legal training to understand how to engage with mining companies and the government to ensure that they can exercise their rights.
“We want them to begin to own their struggles, to set the agenda,” David van Wyk, the Benchmarks Foundation lead researcher, said.
He added that the land rights should stay with the communities so they were able to force mining companies to negotiate with them instead of with other parties.
“Why must we look at someone else to come do prospecting when the communities should be doing it themselves? Land rights should reside with communities; if they have land management capabilities they will be better able to negotiate directly with companies.”
The AMI2015 held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Woodstock saw participating mining communities march on the 2015 Investing in African Mining Indaba held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Previous AMIs have questioned whether the government really controlled any mines; have appealed to mining companies to come clean on tax dodging; have considered minerals as a resource curse and asserted that Africa was resource-rich, while the people stay poor.
The first AMI had 40 delegates attending, but this has increased to over 300 delegates this year. The theme for this year is ‘Making Natural Resources Work for the People’.
Van Wyk said the foundation had at least 35 community-based monitors and had trained communities in various disciplines including journalism so that they could tell their own stories.
Christopher Rutledge, the ActionAid mining extractives co-ordinator, said: “Change can only come about with the input of the people affected; where people speak for themselves and claim their rights. We are moving away from having the NGOs in front and communities at the back; now it is the people in front.”
Mpumalanga activist Rain Sikhosana recounted how a community member had brought a bottle of drinking water containing thick coal sediment. She said: “I will tell you why the mining indaba is held in Cape Town and not in Johannesburg where communities affected by mining have access and can come and protest… they fear the people.”
Open Society Foundation advocacy and communications officer Jeggan Grey-Johnson said the most culpable organisation exploiting mining communities was the AU, which had not implemented the conventions and principles that it had ratified.
“There is lack of political will which leaves these principles merely on paper and it makes it easy for external forces such as companies to exploit and do as they please,” he said.
Van Wyk also spoke of the disparity between pay of local miners compared with their counterparts in Australia.
He added that mining companies had poor justification for this disparity.