The high level of fragmentation within the mining industry is a contributing factor to the continued discontent of miners and mining communities which ultimately ends in strike action such as that experienced in the sector throughout South Africa (SA) over the past two months.
Research we have conducted into corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes throughout the sector over the past five years shows that SA’s mining environment is characterised by a fragmentation of responsibilities to the extent that it inhibits the benefits or effectiveness of any kind of CSR and efforts made towards sustainable development.
The level of fragmentation in the mining environment has exposed the impact of poor integration among the various institutions providing services and the needs of the service recipients. The effects of the fragmentation of developmental activities in the mining communities have resulted in differing expectations at all levels and raises issues of disempowerment as well as capacity concerns.
There are vast differences between expectations, perceptions and needs of the different role-players in the mining environment. The gap between community’s experiences and expectations and that of the mining companies is so wide that begs the question: why are mines allowed to operate without any real sanctions?
It must be remembered that mines are privately-owned and benefit only a few, but at the cost to the people who make way for mining. This cannot go on. Mines will lose their social license to operate. The only way to start an alignment process of these expectations, perceptions and needs is to embark on a community engagement process with legitimate community organisations aimed at mutual understanding and improved community relations.
A lack of trust and vast differences in what people perceive and expect from mining companies to what is actually delivered, also emerged in the research.
Serious efforts have to be made to start establishing common ground among the role-players and to address this lack of trust. This is essential considering the bloodshed and violence of recent times.
Failed Lonmin CSR project
Mining corporations need to adhere to their own international standards, by building long-term relations with communities and show meaningful material change in the lives of communities. And community engagement initiatives, through participative communication programmes, linked to the mining companies’ communication strategies are one of the vehicles that should be used to address the issue. For this to succeed an independent fund overseen by a neutral third party to capacitate community’s knowledge is needed and all the mining houses should at least commit to this in principle.
Such a fund could address the power imbalances within and among communities and miners, implementing institutions and government. Communities need to be informed properly especially on technical issues, tunnels underground, and should have the knowledge of the potential impacts, as one example.
Mine management and key employees require training with regard to community engagement, communication and dealing with communities and traditional leaders at different levels. Mines should also look at putting into place ethical standards that govern their relations with communities and to ensure measurable local economic development indicators. They must accept that the impact of their operations stretches well beyond the site of their operations.
Collapsed sewage system in Marikana
All corporations have a responsibility towards sustainable development that empowers local communities by promoting:
- The quality of life and enhancing the environment;
- Productive employment on a broad scale;
- Meeting fundamental human needs;
- Gender sensitivity particularly at leadership level;
- Care for those infected with and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic; and
- Pollution-free production.
CSR should be about balancing the diverse demands of communities and the imperative to protect the environment, with the ever-present need to make a profit. CSR calls for a company to respond not only to its shareholders, but also to other stakeholders; including employees, customers, affected communities and the general public on issues such as human rights, employee welfare and climate change.
- John Capel is executive director for the Bench Marks Foundation.