People before profits, urge activists

Bishop Johannes Seoka reads the petition demanding for worldwide reforms to  mines. (Adiel Ismail, Fin24)
Bishop Johannes Seoka reads the petition demanding for worldwide reforms to mines. (Adiel Ismail, Fin24)

Cape Town - A leading cleric on Tuesday launched a blistering attack on mines for depleting natural resources, causing environmental damage and neglecting communities surrounding mines.

Anglican Bishop of Pretoria Johannes Seoka, one of the religious leaders who mediated talks that ended the fatal Marikana strike, together with activists and protesters from across the globe lambasted mine stakeholders for raking in profits and neglecting mining communities.

Seoka led a crowd of protestors to the Cape Town International Convention Centre, the venue for the world's biggest mining investment conference.

The march brought motorists to a standstill as they thronged along the road to the conference site.

The group chanted slogans such as "nothing about us without us" and "profit must not come before people".

"We want to deliver our petition in peace so that you can continue to plot and plunder and steal our natural resources," said Seoka over a loudspeaker.

It was drafted under the auspices of the Alternative Mining Indaba, organised in response to Cape Town's annual mining indaba.

The protesters waited for close to three hours to hand over their petition to a government official, but instead handed it over to Janine Hills, a media adviser for the mining indaba who promised to deliver it to the parliamentary committee on mining.

Reading the petition, Seoka said that the “Corporate Mining Indaba 2013” excluded the participation of the actual owners of the mineral resources who should have been at the centre of the discussions.

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The conference fails "woefully to address environmental degradation, deepening of poverty, slippages in the quality of life and concentrating instead on the reckless pursuit of profit at any cost throughout the continent and the world," the clergyman said.

"We note with concern that African governments are over-dependent on mining and foreign direct investment as the path to development at the expense of other people-centred alternatives.

"We also express our unwavering support and solidarity with all other people who are victims of economic, environmental and social injustices surrounding the mining deals that put profit before people throughout the world."

The petition also called on communities affected by mining to put up a united front to fight for social and economic justice in the exploitation of mineral and other natural resources.

Some protesters approached delegates entering the building and waved placards stating "our mines, our resources, our future" and "remember the slain of Marikana".

Sibusiso Sbono, a demonstrator from Witbank, said that mining licences should be reviewed. "Communities should be consulted and there needs to be a stronger focus on the social impact of mines," he said.

Bulelwa Mukenge from the Democratic Republic of Congo took a swipe at foreign investors. "Foreign investors are looting the people and corrupting officials in the mining sector."

An activist from Marikana, Chris Molebatsi, said South Africa is a rich country but some people continue to live in squalor.

He also condemned the government for looking after the interest of the elite. "The ANC is not willing to give the land back to the rightful owners because they are making space for the elitists' BEE," Molebatsi said.

Alvin Mosioma from Kenya, who is the director of Tax Justice Network Africa, said mining needs to be looked at from the people’s perspective.

"Governments tend to listen only to the mining companies, and other stakeholders like communities and churches are not reflected and included in policy making," he said.

Police at the convention centre threatened to act if Seoka did not contain the protesters, after they were ushered away from the entrance to the centre due to a permit limitation.

However, the clergyman passed security officials demanding to speak to a government official, but the MP shooed him away. 

Seoka was one of a group of religious leaders who mediated talks between strikers and mine management which led to an agreement that ended the Lonmin strike that claimed the lives of more than 40 people, 34 of whom was shot dead by police on August 16.

- Fin24

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