The mining sector has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons over the past three years. The Marikana tragedy, the ongoing Farlam Commission and lengthy platinum sector strike have all highlighted the socio-economic issues surrounding the industry. Here, Motsamai Motlhamme, deputy head: industrial relations and community development at the Chamber of Mines, discusses how mines contribute to socio-economic development and some of the barriers to sustainable development in mining areas.
What is the contribution of mining to socio-economic development in South Africa?
The mines contribute to socio-economic development (SED) within a regulatory framework stemming from the Mining Charter. Each mine submits a social and labour plan (SLP) to the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) for approval. The terms of the approved SLP constitute a binding commitment in respect of the projects that the mine will implement during the life of the SLP.
These plans cover a variety of SED imperatives including accommodation and housing for employees, enterprise development programmes, and community development and infrastructure projects. In line with their SLP commitments, each mining company therefore contributes in numerous ways, both in their host communities and labour-sending areas.
What impact are the SED contributions of the mines having and what are some of the barriers to achieving impact?
We can safely say that the money is making a difference. You can see the schools, clinics, houses and other infrastructure that has been built. However, we are not making as much visible impact as we would like.
One of the reasons for this is the ongoing influx of people to the communities surrounding the mines. Planning five years ahead is difficult and often the conditions in communities change significantly during the life of an SLP. Another reason is the challenges within local municipalities, which commit to implementing projects in their integrated development plans (IDP) but, in many cases, lack the capacity or resources to implement these commitments. A third reason is the competing interests within communities, some of which say the projects covered in the IDP do not reflect their wishes. It is often difficult for mining companies to determine the legitimate representatives of community interests, and most work predominantly through the local municipalities.
The final reason is that we have not yet managed to get collaboration and partnerships right. Each mine implements its own projects alongside other mines and there is very little co-ordination or collaboration on projects.
What are some of the barriers to mining companies collaborating on SED projects?
We believe that the most significant barrier to collaboration is the regulatory framework within which the mines operate. Even when companies are prepared to partner, the processes required to amend the SLPs to accommodate the collaboration are time-consuming. Not all the SLPs start and end on the same dates so companies that want to collaborate are often at different stages of their SLPs and cannot include the relevant project in the same time period. To make a change to an SLP during its five-year life, mines need to apply in writing to the Minister of Mineral Resources and it can take up to 18 months for the process to be concluded.
There are also no standardised DMR guidelines, so the responses mines get sometimes differ from province to province. For example, bursaries, rural craft projects and projects addressing gender issues have been treated differently in different provinces with some allowing them to be included in SLPs and others disallowing the same projects. We believe that the entire SLP regime should be overhauled. It needs to be more flexible and to offer incentives for collaboration, high impact and sustainable projects.
What is the Chamber of Mines doing to address the lack of collaboration among its members?
For each commodity, we have created community development forums that meet monthly to discuss projects. While these are useful for sharing information, we have not yet got to the stage of implementing joint projects.
We will continue to try to get our members to partner on SED projects in order to achieve better impact and sustainability, which is ultimately in the best interests of all stakeholders.