A lack of data perpetuates neglect
Talks about mining communities have become common, but most of these are poorly informed as they hardly reflect the voices of the people themselves.
These discussions are largely driven by the interests of different stakeholders. They range from NGOs’ concerns about the rights of mining communities and mining houses’ worries about profits, to government departments’ efforts to ensure compliance. The department of mineral resources’ proposed Mining Charter is intended to ensure that mining communities derive more benefits from the industry. There is an urgent need to understand the material conditions of these communities at the most local level possible if we are to improve their living standards.
Dedicated efforts to address these communities’ issues, such as mining royalties, land rights and environmental concerns, are laudable. However, in the absence of a holistic approach to the issues within these areas, we run the risk of sustaining the toxic and suspicion- filled relationships that exist between mining houses, government, NGOs and the people who live in mining areas.
A holistic approach to developing such areas will require a well-thought-out strategy to manage possible conflicts of interests between interest groups such as shareholders, labour, unions, contractors, traditional leadership structures, local residents and the three spheres of government.
One challenge these stakeholders will have to confront is the decline in the quality of data about mining communities. In an ideal world, mining companies would collect detailed information about mining areas and use this as the basis for their social and labour plans. A cursory glance at most of these plans shows a lack of understanding of the socioeconomic conditions that exist where their employees live.
The cynic in me is tempted to infer from this lack of a datacentric approach, that, perhaps, mining companies are conflicted. Fully profiling and compiling demographic, socioeconomic data and other markers of human development in mining communities might be a double-edged sword. Once you have the full picture, which data and insights will provide, you must have a plan to fix!
As a woman who grew up in Segwaelane village, in the heart of the platinum belt, I have a good understanding of the material conditions in those areas. I believe that lack of basic data about those areas lays the foundation for their continued neglect and abuse.
Have you ever wondered how children in the platinum belt fare compared to those in other areas in the country in terms of basic human development markers? Does being born in the richest platinum belt in the world bestow any advantages on that child? More importantly, how do the life and prospects of a child living in Wonderkop, North West, compare with those of one living in a comparable mining community in Jwaneng, Botswana? A cursory glance at anecdotal evidence suggests that they are worlds apart. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for this must be the way mining communities are catered for on the table of stakeholder interests in Botswana.
While one appreciates that forging a way ahead under the Mining Charter will be complex, the department and mining industry stakeholders do themselves no favours by ignoring the importance of gathering data about mining areas in a way that captures local voices, so that the people who live and work there can be properly empowered and catered for.
With such data and insights available, we would get to understand how best to balance the mining industry’s ability to drive economic development and its hitherto destructive socioeconomic and environmental effects.
I am optimistic that other interested parties will see the light and join efforts to collect data and reimagine how we can develop areas around mines by involving the people who live there, not only as beneficiaries, but also as a major source of information about themselves to shape our interventions. This will go a long way towards ensuring sustainability and the relevance of any social and labour plans in line with the proposed Mining Charter. Our mining communities deserve no less.
Seema is a social entrepreneur and managing director of RuralRockStars (RRS), based in Madibeng, North West. RRS is currently piloting a mining communities research project in Madibeng
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