Affected communities protest mining companies’ damages

The picketers highlighted the damage to the environment and public health that the mining industry is allowed to get away with. All photos by Mzi Velapi

Women in mining-affected communities say they bear the brunt of mining activities.

Women from mining-affected communities who were part of a picket outside parliament on Tuesday spoke about the effects mining by big companies has on their lives. Led by Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) and Women Affected by Mining United in Action (WAMUA), the protesters were calling for the government to involve communities in economic development and policy-making decisions when it comes to mining activities in their communities.

Specifically, the organisations want the legislation of free, prior and informed consent and a commitment to involve communities in economic development and policy making. According to Meshack Mbangula, national coordinator of MACUA, their 2022 social audit report revealed that mining companies do not comply with their social labour plans.

Tokelo Mahlakaone from Fetakgomo Tubatse municipality in Limpopo says that mining companies sideline women when it comes to consultation as they liaise only with traditional leaders. “Mining companies do not consult us as women, they neglect us. They consult with men. We are not given a space to speak and if you confront them they tell you about a communication protocol that is drafted by the mining companies and traditional leaders. The communication protocol blocks the community from engaging with the mining company. Traditional leaders take decisions on our behalf. And if you speak at the traditional meeting as a women, it is regarded as being disrespectful. You can’t speak as a women,” she said.

The impact of mining on the environment is evident in the quality of water downstream from mines. .According to Mahlakaone, the river they depend on for all their water needs is polluted. “We use the same water to irrigate our gardens and the quality of the yield is poor because the water is contaminated.”

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Jobs for sex

Mpho Nkawana from Carltonville told Elitsha that mining companies do not employ many women and when they do, opportunities are often offered in exchange for sexual favours. “Women are not easily employable at the mines. Its always a case of having sex with the people in charge of the recruitment if you want to be employed. Some of them are agents from the companies and it is the same for promotion. If you want to be promoted as a woman, you must have sex with those who are in charge,” she said.

Khosi Nomqa who works at MACUA advice office in Springs on the East Rand of Johannesburg, said that the quality of the air in most mining-affected communities has deteriorated and most people suffer from sinus problems because of the dust in the air. Nomqa also spoke of how the migrant labour system still breaks up families, how it leads to a situation where women have to raise children by themselves when contracts come to an end or their partner gets retrenched. “There are a lot of single mothers in mine-affected communities and they are unemployed and rely on child grants. Mines must employ women in administrative roles if they feel that we are not strong enough to work underground,” she said.

One of the demands of the group is free, prior and informed consent to be legislated.

MACUA and WAMUA resorted to picketing parliament as they feel that they are ignored by the government.

“In 2020, MACUA and WAMUA delivered 50,000 signatures of affected community members to parliament, calling on them to meaningfully consult with communities to ensure that mining laws and regulations take into account the struggles of communities affected by mining and the particular risks faced by women. Throughout 2021, we have sent email after email, memorandum after memorandum, and yet parliament, specifically the chairperson of the portfolio committee on mineral resources and energy, Sahlulele Luzipo, failed to respond to our numerous requests,” reads the statement from the organisations.

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Addressing the crowd outside parliament, Meshack Mbangula said that they had received communication from the office of MP Sahlulele Luzipo to have a meeting with members of the portfolio committee on the 19th of August.

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