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For way too long mining communities and mineworkers have had their fate decided by other vested interests

It’s almost impossible to discern what moral high ground the Minerals Council SA thought it was occupying in arguing against communities, labour and entrepreneurs joining its case against parts of the 2018 Mining Charter.Strategically, the council’s opposition to the 12 parties to whom the high court in Pretoria granted the right to join the case, is understandable. The parties are not its allies and are closer ideologically to the department of mineral resources & energy.

The council made no friends by standing in their way and arguing against them joining the case as it fights to change parts of the charter, with one of the key clauses being the need for companies to top up black ownership levels to 30% when mining rights lapse or are transferred. It means that past empowerment deals do not count towards any kind of credits, entailing fresh transactions to be put in place that include communities, labour and black entrepreneurs.

The full legal inclusion of these groups in the court hearing the council’s opposition to certain clauses in the charter makes the industry group’s position more challenging.As the full bench of judges noted in their ruling last week, these community groups, labour and black-owned entrepreneurial companies all have a vested interest in the very ownership element of the charter that the council is disputing.On the moral face of it, the council’s opposition to their full legal involvement in the case can only be regarded as short-sighted.

In these days when investors take a hard look at ESG (meaning environmental, social and governance criteria), it is critical for a company, organisation or country to uphold the highest possible socially aware criteria and standards in these factors.

It may be trite to point out that without community support of a mining project, the already risky and costly proposition of running a disruptive and damaging extractive operation is made that much more challenging. Any number of mines can attest to the fact that when community relations sour, it spills over into the workforce and productivity.

That the council would deliberately stand opposed to its key stakeholders participating in a court case that would directly affect them only serves to entrench the divide between companies and key stakeholders.

A basic knowledge of the history of mining in SA would show that communities, labour and black people’s involvement in the sector never rose above that of providing a cheap workforce. The consequences of the migration of hundreds of thousands of men to the mines from their rural homes caused social ructions felt to this day.

The charter and the overarching Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act are specifically designed to rectify decades of exploitation and exclusion that have left communities broken and impoverished.

The court handed down an important ruling, one that gives these marginalised stakeholders a long-overdue voice in decisions normally taken by the state and business that affect them directly.

For too many decades communities and mineworkers have had their fate decided by other vested interests. It’s time for the pendulum to swing.

The problem for the council and its members is that they are now dealing with aggrieved stakeholders bringing with them grudges both real and perceived, some due to the failure of local government to deliver.

The nature and tone of the discussions around the formulation of the 2018 Mining Charter in a process headed by minerals & energy minister Gwede Mantashe showed how deep the divide was between the industry and communities.

It’s not hard to imagine why the council would want to keep these parties far away from what it regards as a critically important legal battle. The council argues that it is talking to these groups in other forums, but the truth is that a courtroom is where the groups feel they might see some justice.

It’s no longer business as usual where two heavyweights slug out compromises that affect thousands of people. It is time for a new way of thinking to close the trust deficit and bring social conscience to the fore to make SA mining a sustainable, long-term business in which marginalised people feel they have a stake.