Mineral resources minister, Gwede Mantashe called for increased vigilance of health and safety in the mining sector. Picture: African News Agency/ANA

JOHANNESBURG - If the first weeks of Gwede Mantashe`s appointment as the minister of mineral resources was characterised by the continuation of the arrogance which has become synonymous with the minerals portfolio when he ignored a court order to consult with Macua (Mining Affected Communities United in Action) and other organised community networks, then the first months of the minister's tenure has been marked by the return to the 1996 “Class Project”, which not only deepened and extended the gross inequalities of South African society, but which also led to the rise of an even more dubious Class Capture Project headed by Jacob Zuma.

If the 1996 Class Project was a portent of the deep divisions that such narrow accumulation strategies embody, then South Africa should be seriously concerned by the blatant way the minister has attempted to construct a false narrative which suggests that “bridges are being built to mend the trust deficit and ensure that extraction benefits everyone via transformation and growth”.

Instead of building bridges and mending the trust deficit, the minister`s consultations have further alienated communities and reinforced their worst fears that the minister is determined to exclude community voices from their constitutionally enshrined right to participate in their own governance.

Besides the long list of concerns that communities have raised with the process of consultations, the minister has been standing on these platforms and berating communities for thinking that “mining companies are charities” and has instead been recorded as saying that: “We need to understand that the Mining Charter and other BEE (black economic empowerment) programmes are in place to create black capitalist elites. If you do not want to be a capitalist, then BEE is not for you. Government has tried to make BEE more accessible by adding 'broad based' in front of BEE, but the result was still the same - creating black capitalist elites. If you do not want to be a capitalist, then you cannot participate in BEE.”

While the minister's comments may be music to the ears of the politically connected elites and the mine bosses at the Chamber of Mines, the fact of the matter is that the minister has completely misrepresented the intended outcomes of the Mining Charter and the legislation it is based on.

The legislation that underpins the Mining Charter specifically states that the charter is aimed at ensuring “the attainment of government’s objectives of redressing historical, social and economic inequalities as stated in the constitution", and the charter must furthermore meet the objectives contained in section 2 of the act, which include the mandate to “ensure that holders of mining and production rights contribute towards the socio-economic development of the areas in which they are operating”.

Model has not worked

If the minister now unashamedly contends that only a “black capitalist elite” are entitled to the benefits of redressing the historical, social and economic inequalities, then I would suggest that he clears such a constitutional amendment with the Constitutional Court first.

Macua has consistently contended that the model of only creating black capitalist elites has not worked, and instead it has led to greater inequalities in the sector and in society in general, and this reality has informed their efforts to seek a place at the negotiating table to offer new ideas of broad inclusive models of economic development.

Macua itself was born out of the misery and discontent that epitomises the life of communities who suffer the most egregious injustices at the hand of a mining regime that has completely trampled all over the dignity of millions.

After years of knocking at the door of those in power and receiving only arrogant refusals, Macua, along with other community networks, went to court to claim its constitutional rights. At the 11th hour the new president made heart-rending promises of its commitment to ensuring that communities are “integrally involved” in consultations, and the court affirmed that, as party to the court application, Macua should be involved in the formulation of the charter.

The president's words were taken as a bond, and the rule of law was accepted as unchallenged, yet today, if anything, Macua and mining-affected communities are even further removed from the integral involvement in the formulation of the Mining Charter promised by the president and the court.

At the five “consultations” held by the minister to date, communities have recorded that among a host of manoeuvres by the minister to avoid proper consultations on the formulation of the charter, the process has been marred by the following:

Notice periods on dates and venues have been managed like state secrets, with short notice periods.

Venues have been shifted at short notice and often moved to more inaccessible areas. (In one instance in Kathu, the meeting at the town hall was cancelled without notice and moved to a game lodge outside of town, and community members had to struggle for two hours to find the place.)

Even though the minister`s special adviser promised to provide transport and logistical support for communities to attend the consultations, this commitment has still not been forthcoming.

No copies of the charter were provided to communities to engage with it.

Community members have been actively barred from entering venues and attending the consultations.

Attendance at the consultations were generally by invitation only, with communities often poorly represented and an abundance of business and mine owners, councillors and traditional leaders present.

In one instance, councillors are reported to have told community members that they need not go to the venue as the minister would be coming to them. Needless to say, the minister never pitched up.

Community inputs were often strictly controlled, with many being denied opportunities to speak, and often, questions about the sham process were brushed aside or went unanswered in the meetings, with no form of recourse provided.

The programme was often not completed, with many meetings ending early, and time allocated to community input often being cut short to achieve this.

With the minister going around claiming that 80 percent of the charter is complete, without having received any inputs from communities, and that the May deadline will be met, again without having engaged “relevant and interested stakeholders” in any type of meaningful consultation, the situation seems set to end up in an unfortunate logjam and possible court challenges to the process.

It's ironic then that the effort to rush the process to ensure stability and certainty in the sector may very well end up being the very reason stability and certainty are not provided to the sector.

Despite all this, we continue to assume, in hope and goodwill, that these are merely misunderstandings and that the spirit of our constitution which envisages an equal society in which all share and participate, will win out against the mean-spirited narrow accumulation-at-all-costs mantra which has marked the worst years of our past and which threaten to dominate our society once again.

Christopher Rutledge writes in his personal capacity.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.