WE HAVE got to be grateful for organisations like Bench Marks Foundation. Whether or not we enjoy their special breed of gloom and misery mongering that makes our daily diet of disaster, mayhem, crime and political venality seem almost lighthearted and uplifting, you have to admit they know how to tell a bad story well.

It is just so relentless and determinedly downbeat.

The foundation’s latest report – South African Coal Mining: Corporate grievance mechanism, community engagement concerns and mining impacts – focuses on the multiple offences and horrors of environmental and social degradation that seem to flow almost inevitably from the exploitation of Mpumalanga’s rich legacy of huge coal deposits by capital, labour and the government.

As one reads accounts of the extreme social, health and environmental risks spawned by mining that is not held to account by government agencies which fail to enforce laws meant to prevent pollution and funders who do not implement global best practice guidelines on corporate responsibility, the despair felt by the impoverished communities that live off of and around the mines becomes palpable.

With reports of largely ignorant and helpless communities being thrown crumbs of consultation and communication by the companies that are going through the motions and just ticking the boxes of community responsibility to get their next licence, it is all simply appalling.

Faced with all this, it is hard to find a good word about the industry that still keeps the lights on (mostly) and accounts for a huge, vital chunk of South Africa’s much-needed exports.

Thanks Bench Marks, well done.

Company law

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies pointed out yesterday that the country had no specialised business law practitioners to deal with company law.

“We don’t have specialised lawyers, judges, and litigators to tackle business law,” he told a symposium of business law experts yesterday. And this gave rise to all sorts of legal problems relating to the process of business rescue in this country.

Davies said that in business takeovers and mergers, the law made provision for the protection of shareholders, whether big or small. He said the law protected minority shareholders from being trampled on during the process. He did, however, highlight the need for stronger laws on “corporate raiders”.

More than 1 000 business needed to be rescued in South Africa to avoid liquidation. “There are 1 121 valid rescue processes in South Africa that have already started, with only 73 resulting in liquidation,” he added.

The symposium was examining, among other things, the Companies Act, business rescue processes, and takeovers and mergers.

“The figures tell me that there are remedies other than liquidation,” he said.

Speaking about the Companies Act, Davies said it had made company registration “easier and quicker”.

It is kind of curious how the demise of African Bank and the subsequent springing into action of the Reserve Bank to hoist the flailing bank from the brink has exposed yet another achilles heel in South African business.

It was not long ago that the release of matric results reminded the nation of how our students, particularly blacks, did not grasp the finer points of mathematics, which resulted in a huge shortage of skills and personnel in the sciences.

Prior to that we decried the shortage of engineers because our education system was not user friendly enough for the black community to produce more of these professionals.

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Peter DeIonno and Banele Ginindza.