The South African Constitution mandates the state to take reasonable measures to ensure the right to adequate housing. While corporate social investment does not replace the responsibilities of the state, companies cannot disregard the impact that housing has on the wellbeing of their staff. This is particularly relevant to the mining sector, compelled by the Mining Charter, which must play a key role in ensuring the adequate living conditions of employees who are often forced to relocate from their homes for work.
According to the Housing and Accommodation in the South African Mining Industry Fact Sheet, the 2009/2010 Mining Charter set specific targets for mining companies to improve the standards of housing and living conditions for mineworkers, including the conversion or upgrade of hostels into family units, an occupancy rate of one person per room, and the facilitation of home-ownership options for all mine employees in consultation with organised labour, all by the end of 2014.
The mining industry’s progress on targets
The industry achieved 73% and 63% for the first two targets. However, research into the third target found that many migrant employees would prefer to return to their homes and families in rural areas when they are financially able to do so, rather than moving to mining towns permanently. As a result, the mining industry must explore shift cycles that will enable employees to return home and spend time with their families more frequently and for longer periods. Providing stable housing in mining communities has many unintended consequences, including the breakdown of family units and economies in labour-sending areas.
As with all developmental efforts, corporate involvement in housing must align with national goals and partnerships must be fostered to ensure that government is able to sustain and scale projects initiated by companies.