Report slams mining houses

2012-08-18 14:54

Bench Marks has harsh words for platinum mining firms in the North West

The Bench Marks Foundation has produced a sixth report into the impact of platinum mining in North West on local communities – and the results aren’t pretty.

The foundation had harsh words for all six corporations surveyed.

What is more, there are glaring discrepancies between how the platinum miners view their own conduct and the way their host communities perceive them.

The foundation predicted the conduct was the catalyst for future violent protests in the province – and the 44 deaths at Marikana mine this week have proved the foundation’s fears.

The latest study is a follow-up investigation into a controversial 2007 report, which showed that despite the value extracted from platinum mining, local communities were facing harmful social, economic and environmental impacts as a consequence.

The companies under scrutiny were Impala Platinum, Aquarius Platinum, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Xstrata, Royal Bafokeng Platinum as well as violence-ravaged Lonmin.

All these corporates have a listing on one or more among the JSE, the London Stock Exchange and the Australian Stock Exchange.

John Capel, executive director for the foundation, says the way miners paint their corporate social initiatives in their sustainability reports and the way communities experience them are as different as day and night.

“We still cannot see how mining communities benefit. We read the mininghouses’ sustainability reports and see how they talk of building clinics and schools, but these projects seem to make little difference or impact on communities’ wellbeing,” Capel said.

A common complaint, he says, is that mining companies’ promises of jobs often comes to naught as they attract a large component of migrant labour to their operations.

“This often puts a strain on local amenities, for instance local clinics,” Capel said, adding that the only results most residents get in return for hosting mines in their areas, are cracked houses caused by earth movements, dust pollution and increased competition for scarce resources like clean water.

“Although these mininghouses’ sustainability reports state that they are building clinics and schools, these projects seem to make little difference to communities’ wellbeing and, in some cases, harm them, such as the asbestos classrooms we came across in a Lonmin-supported school.”

The report criticised Lonmin and Amplats for using local chiefs and councillors as recruitment officers, saying some of these individuals exploited their positions to demand sex from women, or money.

Women were generally absent from the industry five years ago. Now, five years later, the study has found that due to employment targets – that 10% of the workforce should be women – more women are indeed in the workplace, but still only 10 of every 100 employees who go underground.

“A female geologist interviewed told us she walks with a knife in her pocket wherever she goes in the mines as women are not safe,” Capel said.

“In the cages (lifts), it’s common for women to be groped and abused, particularly when it’s jam-packed.”

When Lonmin was asked for comment, a spokesperson said the group’s management was too caught up in dealing with the labour violence at its Marikana operations.

Amplats said its recruitment processes were transparent, where no single person or authority had the final say. “If this practice is indeed happening, the company in no way condones it.”

Head researcher David van Wyk from the University of North West said the mines’ reluctance to clean up their acts could stem from what he described as “political pollution”, a situation where high-profile politicians or their families serve on the boards of mining companies.

He said such politicians were more likely to act in the interests of shareholders than to favour their constituents when pressured to make a choice.

While community consultation was a key process for the granting of mining rights, Capel said mines often controlled the agenda when such meetings took place.

“They only consult to the bare minimum, if at all,” he said. “More often than not, companies enter into financial arrangements with a tribal authority that might not necessarily represent the community interests. This divides communities.”

Xtrata said that it found the report misleading full of factual inaccuracies

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