Resettlement projects often lead to the loss not only of housing, agricultural land and other amenities, but also cultural heritage sites and graves.  Photo: AP
Resettlement projects often lead to the loss not only of housing, agricultural land and other amenities, but also cultural heritage sites and graves. Photo: AP

Mining: SA on the way to sustainable resettlement policy

By Jessica Edwards and Adel Malebana Time of article published May 6, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG -  The Draft Mine Community Resettlement Guidelines published in December 2019 by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) signal a positive start in our journey towards a framework for sustainable community resettlement practices.

It is clear that resettlement is a growing concern in the development of large public and private projects in sectors like mining and energy. The physical and economic displacement of a community is generally an irreversible step with serious implications – both for the project-affected people (PAP) and for developers whose projects demand access to land and subsequently resettlement. International guidelines promote avoidance of resettlement during project design wherever possible. However, where resettlement cannot be avoided, careful management is required to ensure positive and sustainable outcomes for all involved.

The initiative to develop these guidelines for South Africa comes on the back of the South African Human Rights Commission report on the underlying socio-economic challenges of the country’s mining-affected communities.

The guidelines are aligned to the standards of international financial institutions who have put their own resettlement policies in place for borrowers. As these institutions apply their own strict standards to resettlement practices linked to the projects they fund, it is also vital that the project owner understands and complies with these requirements – and understands the risks associated with non-compliance.

Some African countries have already been addressing the question from a national perspective, providing South Africa with a range of good practice examples. We have learnt valuable lessons and gained considerable knowledge from our involvement on resettlement projects in Cameroon and Sierra Leone – as well as in the development of a draft national resettlement framework for the government of Guinea. This has provided many insights into what South Africa needs to take into consideration in this draft phase, to ensure good practice.

In making recommendations to the DMRE on the Draft Mine Community Resettlement Guidelines, we have included comments related to resettlement agreements with households and communities – agreements that help ensure that compensation is fair and commensurate. The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) notes that physical resettlement planning is not just about engineering and design, but is also concerned with how to preserve the existing social fabric in a new location.  This means that compensation is also required for the loss of ecosystem services, access and mobility when land use is restricted due to mining.

To standardise the compensation process and make it more transparent, it is also important to have a standardised valuation matrix to determine compensation rates for economic displacement.

As we know, resettlement projects often lead to the loss not only of housing, agricultural land and other amenities, but also cultural heritage sites and graves. The draft guidelines are silent on intangible assets, but need to seriously consider how PAP should be compensated for their loss and include measures to avoid the loss of cultural heritage as far as possible.

The ICMM highlights that good practice requires mining companies to improve – or at least restore – the livelihoods and standards of living of PAP. It also notes livelihood restoration requires a focus beyond just income, and that other social factors such as education, health and social cohesion are vital to sustaining living standards. 

The timing for engaging with PAP regarding livelihoods restoration is important and should be done at the outset of the resettlement planning process. Experience has shown that planning for livelihood restoration is often left until after the resettlement planning process has been completed, and does not receive the same amount of energy and resources as the development of the Resettlement Action Plan. As a result, the process is rushed so as to tick a box, but does not assist the PAP to continue with their lives without being dependent on the project proponent for their ongoing survival.

Consideration should also be given to the way in which mining projects are operated, as they often take a phased approach and resettlement doesn’t always precede mining. Similarly, due to uncertainties in the mining sector, mining plans may change and resettlement may not be required at all. Therefore, a key principle of resettlement should be avoidance of displacement.

According to the International Finance Corporation’s good practise handbook on land acquisition and resettlement, “avoid[ing] displacing people can result in substantial benefits in terms of cost, schedule and reduced exposure to non-ethical and reputational risk”.

It is hoped that inputs from various stakeholders on these draft guidelines – as well as the DMRE’s ongoing engagement process – will lead to a sustainable resettlement framework that is both effective and practical for South Africa.

Jessica Edwards and Adel Malebana are senior social scientists, SRK Consulting.


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