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Mine boss’s sentence brings concerns to fore

Published Feb 11, 2014

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Johannesburg - The details behind the news that the managing director of a mining company faces a possible prison sentence for the environmental degradation caused by his company highlights the extent to which communities are obliged to rely on their own resources to enforce laws aimed at protecting their rights.

The case against Blue Platinum Ventures was the result of action that was taken by members of the Batlhabine community in Limpopo, who were severely affected by the illegal mining of clay close to their village.

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With the support of the Centre for Environmental Rights, an NGO, the community members were eventually able to ensure that the directors of Blue Platinum Ventures who were responsible for the environmental degradation were brought to book.

Charges against all but the managing director, Matome Maponya, were dropped. Maponya is facing a five-year sentence for the devastation the company caused. He can avoid the sentence by merely doing what he is legally obliged to do, which is to rehabilitate the area that was mined.

That poorly resourced community members had to ensure that the laws of the country were adhered to by wealthy mining companies appears to support the view expressed at last week’s Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) that the government is attentive to the interests of business to the detriment of communities.

The Department of Mineral Resources had been made aware of the activities of Blue Platinum Ventures but was either unable or unwilling to do anything to enforce the law and protect the community.

The Blue Platinum Ventures case is just one of many instances across the country where communities are fighting mining companies in a bid to protect their environmental rights and hence their lives and livelihoods.

Tracey Davies, an attorney with the Centre for Environmental Rights, said that the AMI was a gathering of people who had direct experience of the extent to which mining-affected communities were marginalised by mining companies and the government.

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“The government’s failure to act to enforce those laws that do exist to protect communities affected by mining operations is illustrated by the Batlhabine case. Here, the community was forced to resort to criminal prosecution after years of extremely frustrating and fruitless engagement with the Department of Mineral Resources, the government department responsible for making sure that mining companies comply with the law.

“The Batlhabine community’s battle against mining to protect the community’s environment, its livelihood and its dignity, is replicated all over South Africa,” Davies said.

In its summation of last week’s annual meeting, the AMI said that communities continued to cry out against the new rush for mining and extractive profits, “which defy all norms of fair play, consultations and negotiations with communities”. The AMI referred to the continued externalisation of mining costs.

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“While profits are privatised, the true costs to health, environment, ecology, economy and social well-being of workers and communities is ignored in law and practice by the elites in our communities.”

The AMI urged mining companies to avoid “sham consultations with un-mandated elites” that were aimed at circumventing full participation of the communities and to pursue a process of “free prior and informed consent”.

The challenge for mining companies is that free prior and informed consent is a continuous process involving time and resource-consuming negotiations and consultations with communities. However, the potential benefit is that mining companies will not face the risk of their operations being suspended or stopped by disaffected communities.

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The community representatives who attended the AMI also rejected the current practice of giving individual and unelected chiefs control over a community’s resources.

On the controversial issue of illicit financial flows, the AMI called on African governments to enact legislation that promoted “mandatory reporting of revenue payments on production figures, sales, profits and taxes paid by all transnational corporations in all jurisdictions where they operate”. They also called for governments to make this information available to the public.

The AMI, which represents communities from across the globe, urged governments – in particular African governments – to “enact legislation that prohibits public officials from engaging in business activities, owning shares or sitting on a board of a company or companies that will conflict with or compromise their public responsibilities in the sectors that they are supposed to be regulating”. - Business Report

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