New President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dramatic first big policy intervention – circumventing Gupta-linked Mineral Resources Minister Monsebenzi Zwane to back down on the mining charter – has set the scene for a new conflict over mining policy.
Community groups think they have secured a seat at the table to negotiate a new mining charter, but the Chamber of Mines insists the industry remains the main interested party.
Ramaphosa personally met mine bosses last weekend, immediately following his inauguration, to strike a deal to postpone indefinitely the chamber’s long-awaited case to review the charter.
The charter published by Zwane last year set controversial transformation targets that the mines said were both illegal and impossible.
The representatives of the community groups that were set to take part in the court case believe they have won a major victory that will force a “radically different kind of engagement” around the next charter.
This is because of a court order setting out the indefinite postponement of the case this week.
The short court order records that the community groups “as recognised by the respondent, the minister of mineral resources, are interested and relevant stakeholders for the purpose of consultation on the charter formulation process”.
This is enough to change the game, said Louis Snyman, an attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, representing the community groups.
“It certainly helps us ... here we have a court order that mandates the minister to include them [communities],” he told City Press.
“I guarantee we would have been left out if not for that order.”
In the past the consultation with communities has largely involved giving their representatives an early look at whatever the state and the mines had negotiated, said Snyman.
“We are looking forward to a radically different kind of engagement, not something that happens in Pretoria.”
The chamber’s senior executive for public affairs and transformation Tebello Chabane seems to think the community groups overestimate the power of the court order.
It merely recognises them as worthy of “consultation”, he pointed out.
When pressed, he admitted the chamber considers mining companies to be “more key” for the coming negotiations than the communities.
“It is the companies that need to do it,” Chabane said.
The chamber of mines was already preparing its proposal for a new mining charter before the new deal with Ramaphosa, Chabane told City Press last week in the run-up to the court case.
“At some stage we will go back to the negotiating table and we must be ready with a proposal,” he said.
The chamber was consulting everyone from unions to fund managers, Chabane said.
“I don’t think we should look at tweaking the existing charter. We have to think about what good transformation looks like.”
The community groups now have to formulate earnestly a concrete set of positions they want to take to the negotiation table as well, said Snyman.
A starting point would be the 2016 People’s Mining Charter adopted by two of the organisations involved: Mining Affected Communities United in Action and Women Affected by Mining United in Action.
It called specifically for mining to be subject to community consent, implying that mining projects could be blocked if the community had objections.
It called for compensation for land destruction as well as the redirection of 50% of mineral royalties to affected communities.
Mineral royalties represent about R7 billion in tax revenue this year.
The groups, which also include the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of SA, have members from 150 different communities around mines across the country.
There will be a push to recruit more groups under these umbrella organisations in preparation for the new charter talks, said Snyman.
The chamber had unsuccessfully opposed the community representatives’ initial application to join the case.
Chabane said this was because the court would have struggled to hear the whole case in the time allotted – and not because the chamber opposes communities’ right to participate.
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