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Ntokozo Khumalo
 
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Is South Africa facing a resource curse?

04 February 2013, 10:00

According to Wikipedia, which is one of the most used research sites in the world, a resource curse or ‘Paradox of Plenty’  is defined as the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer resources. I for one am starting to believe that South Africa, just like any other resource rich African country, is facing a resource curse.

The past year has been one of contention, suspicion and game exit by large mining companies. The ‘Marikana Massacre’ as dubbed by media, woke many South African’s up to the issues within the mining industry. None of us however were shocked by the measly pay earned by miners, terrible living conditions or calls for nationalization from opportunistic politicians.  But we were all troubled by just how far things have gone, with police attacking miners and miners doing the same.

I have watched many a documentaries and movies based on resource curses in other countries like Sierra Leone, and had always had a sense of pride that South Africa is not that position. But now, with the latest developments and all the other issues within mining that are slowly creeping out, what must happen now?

South Africa has been a world leader in mining even before Apartheid. We are world famous for our mineral resources that account for a significant proportion of world production and reserves. South African mining companies (or foreign companies operating in SA mining communities) are key players in the global industry.

Our country’s total reserves remain the world’s most valuable, with an estimated worth of R20.3 trillion. Overall, we are estimated to having the world’s fifth largest mining sector in terms of GDP value. But to this day, this has not translated to better living conditions for the man on the street in these mining communities.

I happened to live in a mining community for 6 months last year, this is where I learned and saw for myself just how things really work in a mining community. The mine becomes the big corporate one would find in Johannesburg. Everyone wants to work there, but very few actually get in. If someone from within the community hears that you have any kind of link to the mine, they will be asking you to hook them up with a job every other day, desperately so.

 A practical example, when I moved to this mining community, I inherited the cutest little puppy who had been left behind by her owners, I tried my best to care for her but after more than 2 weeks of not being at home, and not knowing anyone else to help care for her I decided it was best to put her up for adoption with the SPCA. A rep from SPCA came to pick her up a day later, and once he found out I was trying to get some freelance media work at the mine, he asked me to hook him up “even if its underground or an entry level job” He said. Now I am trying to imagine why someone who clearly has a passion for animals would want a job in a mine.

It turns out working for the mine gets you respect from everyone, even if working for the mine means a monthly salary of less than R4 000. This is better than what 90% of household’s bring home.  The balance beam is so unbelievably tilted, and it is exactly the same in all mining communities across the country. And this is where the ticking time bomb lies.

When I lived in this particular mining town, there was no operational public or private hospital, there was one under construction, which had been ‘under construction’ for a year before I got there I was told. I was warned to keep my man in check because of the sky rocketing HIV/AIDS rate, something crazy like 1 in 3 one in every 3 people were infected. And service in government institutions like the municipality was appalling, but the guys running it were mostly driving the latest BMW or Mercedes Benz.  There was also no reliable electricity for households. It became an unwritten tradition for everyone to go out for a braai or game drive when lights went out, and they could be out till the next day, 3 times a week.

A couple of months ago when Julius Malema was someone people still cared to even take note of, he was in the forefront of pushing for nationalization. A part of me agreed with some of his points, I cried out for the communities just like he seemed to be too. But once I lived in a mining community I realized his call was for selfish reasons. I discovered that communities in Limpopo that apparently loved him actually loathed him. He had burnt them on so many levels, taking road and community development contracts away from known and respected companies for himself, and then doing a shoddy job if a job at all.

I do not know what needs to happen to change the situation of our mining industry. The Mining Indaba which starts Monday is supposed to be the vehicle that addresses all these issues, opens up debates with the communities and find real avenue’s for all kinds of transformation. Mining communities have some great business men (all races, but more especially white since they seem to be getting overlooked) who want to and have the means to do great things in these communities, but are stifled by multinationals, individuals within multinationals and government agents.

Projects that are being undertaken are being overshadowed by the troubles of the industry.

What are your thoughts? What should the Mining Indaba be doing to tackle these issues or is it every South African’s responsibility to make a difference? 

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