Dr Gavin Andersson (Seriti Institute, Director: Learning and Innovation) attended the Mining Indaba on 5-8 February 2018 in Cape Town, whose theme was “Investing in African Mining”. Dr Andersson participated in sessions on the “Sustainable Development Day” with the theme of transforming the industry to make mining work for people.

A recurring theme throughout the day relating to sustainable development was the neglected relationship between mining houses and the near-mining communities. The point was made that unless there is a healthy relationship between mining companies and local residents, it will be difficult to create a sustainable future for the industry.

Various speakers reflected on the trust deficit between communities and mining companies and urged that priority be given to community development process that aims at enabling self-reliance in local communities. However, it was recognised that it will not be easy to change existing patterns of interaction:

  • There is a war-like atmosphere in many communities, which is an inevitable product of unequal power relations even while communities are badly affected by mine pollution (i.e. soil, water etc.) and suffer exceptionally high levels of poverty and unemployment;
  • There is seldom any accountability from the mines to local residents, dating back to colonial days. Only enough is done to prevent unrest in communities;
  • The extractive mentality of mining carries over to social dealings. Seldom is there any discussion about long-term community gains, but instead a begrudging contribution toward a project for example; and
  • Mining houses have a short-term focus, and often seem to be merely ticking boxes for compliance with regulations. There is moreover no common vision.


In addition to the poor quality of existing relations, the gathering looked at structural and systemic causes for weak collaboration between mines and communities:

  1. Mining companies’ social investments follow their Social and Labour Plans (SLPs). These are based on the Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) of municipalities, which might not be up-to-date and specifically may lack input from local communities. The Department of Mineral Resources has also insisted that projects be easily attributable to a single mining house. This has meant that there is seldom any scale or cohesion to mining houses’ SLP contributions, nor a ‘regional plan’ to which all companies contribute, but rather isolated projects that cumulatively do little to change conditions in communities. Thus, even while the mining houses think they have contributed to local development, this is not seen by communities.
  2. Furthermore, the structure of mining corporations themselves is a barrier to effective engagements with communities. Those tasked with community relations have little experience in community development. They may lack sensitivity and patience, and usually have little knowledge of participatory processes. However within the corporation, there is no way to evaluate their reports or opinions; they are taken to represent fully what the community is thinking, and to know the best course of action. They are judged by the KPIs set by the mining company, however, there is no stage at which they have an obligation to report or answer to community representatives.
  3. Sustainability Reports and Integrated Reports paradoxically make companies more conservative in how they relate to communities. These glossy reports tend to focus on concluded achievements, preferably verified by photographs, such as the building of a school or clinic. However, community development process is seldom so straight-forward or concludable in discretely packaged projects; it thus appears to be ‘messy’ to those keen on neat stories and to be avoided.

Several ideas emerged in the discussions which could help to improve this situation.

  • John Capel of Bench Marks Foundation proposed that mining houses should commit themselves to resource an Independent Problem Solving Service that would provide services to all communities affected by mining operations. This would place facilitated dialogue at the centre of its practice, which would aim to strengthen community organisation to address poverty and inequality in all its dimensions. An essential part of an IPSS should be a Capacity Building Fund, which would make technical resources available so as to strengthen community capability in dialogues as well as developmental activity.
  • In supporting this suggestion Dr Andersson noted the proposals made by Mining Dialogues 360⁰ back in 2013 around conditions on the platinum belt. These called for all mining houses to contribute to a Development Fund, which would facilitate community planning and organisation (including consultation with local municipalities,) and help them access technical and financial resources for plan implementation, with an overall intention of creating a parallel non-mining economy along the platinum belt. He argued that the MD360⁰ proposals are very similar to that now made in very detailed form by Bench Marks and that the Bench Marks proposal should be supported. He suggested that key to the establishment and effective operation of an independent entity lay in its governance arrangements. Some trustees (or directors) of an Independent Problem Solving Service need to be completely trusted for their integrity and clarity of vision by the mining houses, while others need to be seen in the same way by communities.
  • This ‘high-level’ governance arrangement will surely need to be augmented by local governance arrangements, where all those living in an area are able to satisfy themselves of due process and fairness in decisions about the allocation of resources and contribute their ideas to the improvement of the Service.
  • Dr Andersson appealed for a rethink of mining corporations’ accountability arrangements. He suggested a two-tier accountability framework. The first tier deals with existing notions of accountability to mining house stakeholders and shareholders through the annual report, which often relates to concluded projects and compliance with legislation. A second tier would expressly deal with accountability to local communities by the mining houses, and here the focus would be on process, the forging of collaborative relationships and overall, the strengthening of community capability.
  • All panels recognised that none of the creative suggestions made on the day could come to anything without focused policy advocacy. At present, Government does not pay adequate attention to mining communities, and its policies and regulations can compound a problem rather than helping to solve it.