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OPINION: Natural resources must be shared

2017-09-24 06:26 / Christopher Rutledge

Approximately 31 companies, with a combined market capitalisation of R578bn on August 31 last year, control almost 80% of the South African mining market.

While this is some improvement on the six mining houses that dominated the sector as the apartheid era was fading, the overall thrust of the sector is still one of monopoly control, with a handful of executives able to dictate the general policy direction.

Christopher Rutledge

Most shareholders in these 31 companies are not South Africans, according to the department of mineral resources.The department contends that this number is significantly smaller when considering how many historically disadvantaged people hold shares in these companies.

While the Chamber of Mines disputes the department’s numbers, the fact remains that the vast majority of South Africans have not been afforded “equitable access to the nation’s mineral resources”.On balance, the policy of BEE has benefited only the connected few, while deepening the inherited class inequalities of our society.

For the more than 30 million South Africans living in poverty, the question of whether a black or a white South African owns shares in mining companies has become a red herring that detracts from the real, pressing issue of putting food on the table.

The mining sector, far from providing equitable access, has been shedding jobs over the past two decades. Employment has declined from a peak of almost 1 million people to less than 450 000 direct jobs today.

Increasingly, the mining sector’s profits are leaving our shores either directly as dividends, or indirectly as part of the global scourge of base erosion and profit shifting. Thus, despite the noble objectives of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, its mechanisms to achieve this have not been consistent with its objectives.

Instead, the overall trajectory of the industry has been to consolidate monopolistic control. As a direct consequence of the historical trend of inequality, where ever more wealth is concentrated in fewer hands and with ever more people falling into poverty, unemployment and desperation, the turn to informal mining has become a livelihood option that hungry families can no longer ignore.

Yet the very same act, which nobly sets out to ensure equitable access to the nation’s minerals, while substantially and meaningfully expanding opportunities to promote employment and advance the social and economic welfare of all South Africans, is the very basis that government uses to criminalise the poor and marginalised.

Inhumanity and greed

In Kimberley, for example, thousands of unemployed people have been in a long struggle to “expand their opportunities” using the “nation’s minerals” to “improve their social and economic welfare”.

The department and the Northern Cape government, at the insistence of diamond miner De Beers and Ekapa Minerals, have, however, led the informal mine workers on a merry dance with promises that they will be allocated land and permits to mine legally.

Both companies have been caught out in lies made under oath to courts. Most recently, Ekapa demanded that police forcibly and illegally remove informal mine workers from disputed land, which resulted in violence.

At least 27 people were shot and some were arrested on trumped-up charges.

The state, under the leadership of the Hawks and the department, should find ways to uphold its constitutional duty to provide equitable access to the nation’s minerals.Instead, it has been preparing a security response that includes the intimidation and arrest of otherwise law-abiding citizens who are merely claiming their right to work.

Numerous threats have been made to the mine workers that the police do not want another Marikana. The inhumanity of a state that protects the interest of capital and the elites before it protects the rights of its citizens is amplified by the economics that drive the violence of denial and impoverishment. According to Mining Weekly, Ekapa Minerals expects to produce diamonds at a rate of 700 000 carats a year in the first three years, generating revenue of R920m a year.

The thousands of mine workers desperate to put food on the table will hardly generate 1 000 carats from the waste and land that are peripheral to Ekapa’s economic wellbeing.

The greed that allows corporations to deploy lawyers and the state to keep hungry people from feeding their families should be a blot on the South African conscience. The Chamber of Mines estimates that well over 30 000 people work in informal mining and that the sector generates about R6bn a year.

This amounts to less than 0.1% of the total revenue the industry generates.

There can be no rational reason we continue to deny hungry unemployed people a fair chance at earning a living.

Through collective action and with the right spirit of ensuring human dignity above all else, we can devise safe and sustainable ways to incorporate informal mine workers into the legislative and regulatory environment.

It is time to stop protecting the wealthy elites and start living up to our constitutional obligations.

We can do so by reclaiming our humanity and our shared duty to overcome the brutal history of colonialism and elite accumulation of wealth.

* Rutledge is the Natural Resources Manager at ActionAid SA


LINK - http://www.news24.com/Columnists/GuestColumn/natural-resources-must-be-shared-20170922

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