As a child of a mineworker – and having spent time in the mining town of Klerksdorp and the Eastern Cape, a significant labour-sending region for South Africa’s mining industry – I know first-hand the effects that mining has on communities in South Africa.
We all know the stories of mining towns that once were the economic heartbeats of their communities, and today are shadows of their former selves, with limited opportunities for a better tomorrow.
As South Africa’s largest and oldest mining company, Anglo American has had to ask this question: How we can help to change this story?
How do we practically demonstrate our deep and long-standing commitment to addressing some of the country’s most intractable challenges?
How do we re-imagine mining, beyond the extraction of minerals from the earth, to a significant consideration of the communities that host our operations?
These are the questions that keep us awake at night. They go to the very core of our business.
Over the past 100 years, we have had a front-row seat to the changing nature of the challenges and the opportunities of the industry. We have seen the demands and expectations of society change around how we address the critical challenges of safety, productivity, and the way we use land, energy, and water. The most significant shift has undoubtedly been in the expectations society has from us in contributing to the socio-economic development of our people, our communities, and the entire country.
Experience tells us that in the past, mine closures bred disappointment, hopelessness and an unhealthy distrust between host communities and mining companies. Anglo American is fundamentally committed to changing that legacy, by planning deliberately for what happens beyond the life of a mine. When you close a mine, a community remains, and we need to do more to ensure that the benefits of mining remain long after the mine has closed, 20 to 30 years down the line.
Our approach to changing this story, and creating a much more sustainable way to mine, is expressed in something we call Collaborative Regional Development. It’s an approach characterised by ppartnership and engagement. The aim is to identify socio-economic development opportunities that boast the greatest potential in a region through spatial planning and analysis.
Spatial planning enables us to start addressing issues within both space and context. We can gather, collate, clean, improve and analyse large quantities of spatially referenced data from across a single region. This integrated approach provides the analytical support needed to identify economic opportunities and social challenges and determine how they are inter-related.
In essence, this approach aims to help communities achieve long-term economic prosperity, with mining as the catalyst rather than the sole economic activity. In other words, when the mine stops operating, we want to make sure we leave thriving and sustainable communities behind.
Imagine a mining community that benefits directly from the rich mineral endowment beneath its feet, while new economic activities such as 3-D printing, agribusiness opportunities, biofuels, game ranching, and tourism begin to develop, building on mining’s contribution. This is the vision we are working towards.
This week we announced the launch of a significant partnership in the Limpopo province that supports this approach. Together with a group of partners ? Exxaro, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and World Vision International – we signed an agreement with the Limpopo Provincial Government that will ultimately improve economic development, the quality of health and wellbeing, and general living conditions of host communities across Limpopo.
Known as the Impact Catalyst, the initiative will drive large-scale, socio-economic development initiatives in the province through sustainable public-private partnerships. It will help boost economic development, health, education, social empowerment, the environment, and supporting municipal and provincial governments to upskill and improve service delivery.
We have already begun pilots in supplier development, agro-processing and the biodiversity economy, and have improved access to information technology. We are also exploring numerous other opportunities.
The Impact Catalyst is based on our belief that as a company that is deeply rooted in South Africa, we can make a significant contribution to South Africa’s social, environmental, and economic development. It gives us a chance to be directly involved in charting a new path for the future of mining host communities and regions. We do not have all the solutions, but we are ready to get our hands dirty. This is why we’re working in partnership to make this a reality.
It is still early days, but we have a chance to work towards the long-term socio-economic development of Limpopo, together with our partners – and with the communities whose lives will be affected. Our success will ultimately be built on collaborations and partnerships between many obvious and not-so-obvious partners, and we look forward to the work that remains to be done because we firmly believe that we have the power to shape our future together.
Andile Sangqu is the Executive Head of Anglo American in South Africa. Views expressed are his own.