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21st February 2024

#4

Dear Friend, this first edition in 2022 brings news of the departure of the founding Executive Director of the Bench Marks Foundation, John Capel. Bishop Jo Seoka and staff wish John well in his future endeavours and know that he has laid a good foundation for future work. A full tribute from his comrades is reproduced hereunder.

In the interim, the deputy director of the Foundation Moses Cloete will step in. Moses has worked in many different organisations before and his most notable contribution was the building of the Young Christian Workers Movement internationally and in South Africa.

The letter to the President of South Africa is about Minister Mantashe and his battle with civil society organisations. In the Meet-UP, we go the Klerksdorp / North West Region to meet activists who work with us there. 

Continuing the theme of organising, we learn about the actions on tailings dams and, on the themes of the courts and the judiciary, we inform you of the historic constitutional court case that has fundamental repercussions for our young democracy: the fight against SLAPP spoken about above.

Read and enjoy. 

EDITORIAL

In the past few weeks, one can be forgiven for thinking that the constitution and the judicial system are either useless or all powerful. The truth lies somewhere in between. Those of us working for justice with the poor and working communities need human rights law to assist us in obtaining justice for ourselves and those we work with. Those who rely solely on the courts and lawyers will succumb to the disease of legalism, and those who simply swear at the courts and lawyers are engaging in mere empty stunts.

We have worked for years and continue to organise, and this is the critical support we can offer those honest and hardworking civil servants in the judiciary. We all can and must do more.  

Unsurprisingly we will focus on tribunals and courts as well as our organising efforts. The one to watch for is the anti SLAPP case to be held at the constitutional court on 17 February 2022. Slapp has been defined as: A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), SLAPP suit, or intimidation lawsuit[1] is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

ARTICLES

BenchMarks

THANK YOU FOR THE TIME COMRADE JOHN

The staff and board wish John Capel the best with whatever he seeks to do in the future. Here are some of the tributes:

Thanks John for our friendship and relationship developed over 20 years. I will always have you in my thoughts and try to be what each letter of F.R.I.E.N.D means for friendship. God bless your dream and future. Stay in touch
Bishop Jo

Dear John, I remember the first days I joined BMF, I didn’t know how to address you and it’s like you read my mind and you just looked at me and said, call me John. I want to thank you for being the best boss I ever worked with. So calm, thoughtful and understanding. Thank you for believing in me. You always had time for your staff, you are such a good listener and approachable boss. When you announced that you were leaving, I thought it was a joke because, to me, you leaving was like the end of BMF, when there is BMF, your name automatically pops up.

Thank you for the role you played in this organisation and the respect you gave to the communities we worked with, thank you for not giving up in standing by mining communities and always taking good care of your staff. You are the best and thank you for who you are. I wish you all the best. 
Simo

John, always calm and pleasant, immaculate in dress and appearance, able to draw diverse personalities and opinions together, a charismatic personality if there ever was one, led the Benchmarks Foundation for two and a half decades into the household name and point of reference that it is today. I wish you well with all your endeavours and a happy future. 
David van Wyk

Dear Boss, you are leaving behind big shoes to fill, but one should take comfort in they are pointed in the right direction. I must say your dedication and hard work has inspired many of us and we have grown to be better leaders in our own right under your guidance, dedication and consistent hard work. Say goodbye to your tension and hello to your retirement goals. Eternally will remain grateful,
Brown Motsau

Dear John, it was an absolute pleasure to know you and work closely with you. One has learned a lot from your hard work and dedication. It would not be easy to move forward without you, you have always been there to us as a leader. You have navigated this organisation through its highs and lows with grace and strength.
You surely have left an indelible print-mark in the sector, with your leadership of many campaigns. It is sad that we are losing a good leader, but very happy with your many successes.
It has been an honour and privilege to have worked close to you. I wish you all the greatest happiness and success in your journey ahead. Best of luck, we will maintain contact to draw on your immense experience. Farewell to you, John. Kind regards,

Eric

We were all younger once, and I recalled the first few times we met. You were the white guy who used to move in many black townships as a member of the YCW. A few years later we were both in the same union although in different areas of work, but as we have often discussed, this time was foundational for us. It helped to nurture a political culture that put the poor, workers and democracy at the centre of your politics. We learnt more than the politics but also the value of comradeship and the songs that united us.
Your years at the helm of Bench Marks Foundation is testimony of your commitment to working for genuine change from below. We worked well together but it was not all honky-dory. We disagreed as well but you were never disagreeable. I trust whatever venture you take from here on, you will stay close to your roots.
So, some twenty odd years later, we say farewell. I must add that this is not a sad ending – but a reflection of a good innings. It is undeniable that your drive and commitment (with others, of course!) helped to make the Bench Marks Foundation a very credible organisation in our society. You built a team around you to tackle and expose the misery that mining causes in people’s lives. I wish you the best in your new endeavours. Solidarity Forever, 

Hassen

Dear John,  you have left a clear footprint in the Mining Industry, which you can be proud of. You have also successfully led an organisation which has provided hope and empowerment for many mining affected communities. Wishing you well in your future endeavours.
Jeremy

Dear John Capel, Thank you so much for supporting and standing by mining affected communities. Snakepark Cerebral Palsy Forum is saying Thank you for your support all the time. May God bless you and BMF. Sincerely,
Tiny Dhlamini

Dear John, thank you for the journey well-travelled and not without its hills and mountains, trials and tribulations. Victories and lows shared. Thank you for your magnificent contribution in making BMF what it is. A fight for communities against Corporate spin. May the next step be as fulfilling as it can be. A big thank you. Solidarity,
Moses

Dear John, I still cannot believe that I am writing this because you are leaving BMF. You are BMF. It’s been a good 9 years together. Thanks for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful team. Thanks for pushing me when I thought I couldn’t do it. I have grown so much and learnt a lot from you. You are the most understanding boss I have ever had. Hope this is not goodbye but rather till we meet later again. Go well, 
Busi Thabane

Dear John, Your support to the struggle of the poor and near mine communities will be missed. Your leadership and guidance has inspired a lot of people young and old. We will really miss you, John. I wish you all the best,
Chris

ARTICLES

JUSTICE NOW, AND IN THE FUTURE

The COP 26 gathering and some say jamboree has ended but, what is the post COP initiatives for civil society organisations? Here we present two critical resources for activists: Declaration on Mining and Energy, and A Plan to Save the Planet. 

  • The first is the Declaration on Mining and Energy. It calls for support for a just and rapid transition away from fossil fuels and towards a renewable energy system, something that our leadership in government seems to have paid lip service to. The Minister of Energy and Mineral resources has lambasted South African civil society, alleging – amongst other things – that they are agents of foreign donors.
  •  

The declaration says that climate catastrophe will not get better but worse, if there is no action. It argues that “Dangerous mine waste storage and disposal have led to deaths and catastrophic destruction of downstream environments as well as the contamination of fragile marine ecosystems, fisheries and coastal communities. Mining, including for battery minerals such as cobalt, lithium and nickel causes disproportionate harm to Indigenous peoples.”

For more information, see https://earthworks.org/campaigns/making-clean-energy-clean/declaration-on-mining-and-the-energy-transition-for-cop26/

They have united to draft a breath-taking intellectual endeavour, with proposals that touch on what Covid has laid bare calling it The Three Apartheids which are the Apartheid of money, medicine, and food. In addition, they explore the causes of these three apartheids, which rest with the undemocratic and elite control of a handful of companies and governments having control over the global economy: These controls are manifold: control over science and technology, control over financial systems, control over access to resources, ontrol over weaponry and ontrol over communications.Read this report here: https://thetricontinental.org/text-a-plan-to-save-the-planet/

DEAR MR PRESIDENT

Please note how your Minister Mantashe is speaking. He accused civil society groups of working for foreign interests. Did our government not make agreements to cut down on fossil fuels?

This is the Open letter civil society groups sent to the Minister. Did you read it? We really want the department to work for the people and not for big corporations. 

We reiterate the key demands here:

  • The leadership and structure of the DMRE must be transformed to fulfil a mandate for an inclusive socially, economically, and ecologically just energy and mining future. Mantashe must step aside to allow new progressive leadership.
  •  
  • A rapid and just transition to a more socially owned, renewable energy powered economy, providing clean, safe, and affordable energy for all, with no worker and community left behind in the transition.
  •  
  • No to new polluting, corrupt and expensive coal, oil, and gas projects. We demand One Million Climate Jobs instead. Reject the costly, unnecessary, and allegedly corrupt powership programme, & investigate officials within the department around irregular deals.
  • Communities must have the right to say no to mining projects, that includes free, prior informed consent, the upholding of social labour plans, and the right to sustainable alternative modes of development.
  •  
  • Minister Mantashe and the DMRE must stop blocking and inhibiting Eskom’s transition to renewables. We need a Green New Eskom driving a just transition to a more socially owned, renewable energy future.

Read more here: https://ewn.co.za/2021/11/17/opinion-an-open-letter-to-minister-mantashe-and-the-dmre

THE MEET - UP

A meeting place to learn about organisations, networks, movements and people resisting injustices and whom we work with.

BISHOP PHALANA

This month we go to the North West Region, with a podcast conversation between Hassen Lorgat and Tshepo Mmusi, the Programme Officer at Justice and Peace Commission. Tshepo has worked with the Monitoring School since its inception and, for years, worked closely with Bishop V.H. Phalana. He insists he knew the bishop long before, when he was a priest. Their working relationship continues.

Bishop Victor Hlolo Phalana was born on 3 April 1961 in Erasmus, Odi, North West Province, South Africa. He was raised by his mother’s uncle: Clovis Phalana and Victoria Phalana. They were full time catechists and teachers in Catholic Schools. His adoptive parents received Papal Medals: Bene Merenti and Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice respectively. Both of them collaborated in introducing the Sodality and of the Sacred Heart and the Sodality of St Anne to the Archdiocese of Pretoria. Victor did his primary school studies at Sjambok School in Erasmus under Mr Michael Tshetlo.

He completed his Matric studies at Tsogo High School under the Mercy Sisters. The principal was Sister Majella Quinn, in Mmakau, Dewildt. He was an altar server under Fr Guiliano Melotto CSS, a Stigmatine. He attended the Vocational Centre in Mmakau under Fr Michael D’Annucci, who also became his chaplain and mentor in the Chiro Movement of South Africa. May he Rest in Peace! He started his seminary formation in Hammanskraal, St Peter’s Orientation – under Fr Sebastian Mahara. He studied philosophy and theology at the major seminary of St John Vianney in Pretoria, under Fr Myles Russell OFM and Fr William Slattery OFM.

He was ordained to the priesthood on the 14th May 1988 in Medunsa, by Archbishop Emeritus, G.F. Daniel where he was also incardinated to the Archdiocese of Pretoria. Following his ordination, Father Phalana served as parochial vicar of St. Camillus in Hammanskraal (1988-1989) and later as Pastor of Christ the King, Mabopane (1989-1992). From 1992-1993 he was Professor at the Propaedeutic Seminary of Hammanskraal and Cape Town. He received his Licentiate in Spiritual Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1995. In 1999 he undertook studies in African Culture at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi.

His Lordship, Bishop Victor, known to many as ‘bro V’ or ’Mavee’, has been a Catholic priest for 27 years. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Pretoria as a Diocesan Priest, where he served as a Vicar General to Archbishop William Slattery, OFM. He has spent his ministry working in Pretoria, Cape Town and Germiston.

His Lordship Bishop Victor has served the church in various capacities: Parish Priest, Chaplain of the Chiro Youth Movement, Vicar for Evangelisation, Vocations Director and Dean of the North West Deanery. Fr Victor served as a formator at St Paul’s Orientation Seminary in Hammanskraal; St Francis Xavier Orientation Seminary in Cape Town; St Peter’s Philosophicate in Garsfontein (Tshwane); and also in his Alma Mater, St John Vianney Seminary in Waterkloof (Tshwane). He was also a workshop facilitator/trainer on behalf of Lumko Institute in Germiston.

As a facilitator he had to visit every corner of the Republic of South Africa. He did some ministry in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Italy, Lugano in Switzerland and Zambia.

He served as Secretary of the Southern African Council of Priests (SACOP).

He served on various committees of the Southern African Bishops Conference: Committee of Liturgy and Inculturation; Committee of Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue; Committee for Culture.

He was Chairperson of the Board of the Oukasie Development Trust; Deputy Chairperson of the Tshwane Leadership Foundation and a Board member of Yeast Housing in Tshwane.

He continues to be involved in community projects. One of those community based projects, Hectorex, is presently promoting IT training and IT networking; Maths and Science Training for Educators and High School students; Science Week and Girl Learner Training. These projects are based in the Madibeng Municipality, Oukasie and Hartebeespoort.

Bishop Victor is passionate about South Africa. He would like to see our South African story being a success story; not a story of disastrous failure! He is concerned about all those who criticise without putting forward possible solutions to the challenges facing us. He believes that co-operation and collaboration are the best tools for success and development. He, like most of us, would like to be a part of the solution, not part of whiners and reactionaries.

We are faced with challenges: some of those challenges are pollution; lack of development; unemployment and a high crime rate; lack of infrastructure; poverty, HIV/Aids and chronic illnesses; lack of skills; disintegrating family life; substance abuse and moral decay; nepotism and corruption; political and economic instability in the neighbouring countries; xenophobia, racism, tribalism, charlatans and scams especially self-declared prophets, apostles and pastors in the New South Africa; drug dealers and gangs; prostitution and human trafficking; road accidents; witchcraft, witch-doctors and satanism; rebellious youths, unemployed youths, angry youths; and the challenges posed by immigrants and refugees. The list goes on and on. We cannot resolve all these issues at once. We need one another to come up with strategies, and innovative mechanisms to deal with them. The government alone cannot do this. Faith-based communities have a big role to play.

He was ordained bishop of Klerksdorp on the 25th of January 2015 by Archbishop William Slattery, OFM. His Motto is “JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”

UPCOMING EVENTS AND MEETINGS

STANDING COMMITTEE ON TAILING DAMS FORMED

Over the last six months, the Bench Marks Foundation working with MiningWatch Canada and Earthworks convened a workshop on Tailing Dams. The initiative was part of the efforts to organise a global civil society response to the failure of corporations to secure lives and livelihoods when managing tailings. The impetus was Brazilian Samarco Mine’s tailings dam failures, which resulted in the killing of 19 people downstream and sending mine waste down the Rio Doce river over 600 km to the Atlantic Ocean. This was in 2015 but it seems that others have not learnt.

In South Africa, during the last 3 months 2 incidents have had a direct impact. The Reiger Park Bulletin reported the senseless death of two youth, from what appears to be a site where the tailing dams were not properly secured.

The second incident happened in the Kwazulu Natal province when a tailing dam burst affecting rural communities, animal and plant life. The Daily Maverick described the crisis, thus: “the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC), a major coal mine in KwaZulu-Natal, is under fire after at least 1,500,000 litres of polluted mine waste burst from a slurry dam and spread into the surrounding land and rivers.”

Currently, the Standing Committee on Tailing Dams boasts membership of IANRA, Sarwatch, community activists from Riverlea and SnakePark, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, University academics and members of the legal fraternity. A meeting of the group is being planned for early February 2022.

Read the report Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management. Earthworks & MiningWatch Canada, 2020.

If you want to join the group, please email simo@bench-marks.org.za clearly indicating:

Standing Committee on Tailings
c/ Bench Marks Foundation

Staff of the Bench Marks Foundation will be finalising their Strategic Plan on 31 January and 1 February 2022.

 
The matter has been set down as Mineral Sands Resources Propriety Limited and Another v Christine Reddell and Others and will be heard in the Constitutional Court on 17 February 2021. THe implications for Civil society and the wider society is profound. This matter goes back to 2017 when two human rights lawyers working for CER, Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell, together with Davine Cloete, an environmental activist from the Western Cape, were served with papers in a defamation suit brought by MSR and its Director Zamile Qunya. As reported before the defendants were sued for doing basic human rights activism at a lecture at the University of Cape Town’s Summer School Programme. An example of the claims against Davies, Reddell and Cloete appears from the summons, in which it is alleged that MSR has been damaged in its reputation and has suffered damages in the sum of R750 000 (R250 000 for each defendant). This matter has been through the Supreme Court and now will be heard at the Constitutional Court: https://collections.concourt.org.za/handle/20.500.12144/36862 Both Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and the South African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRD) have filed affidavits as friends of the court and can be found on the Centre for Environmental Rights website. Here we share only one link: https://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/SAHRDN-Affidavit-Amicus-Curiae-application3818114.1.pdf Moses Cloete serves as the editor at large of this edition. Unless otherwise indicated the writing and presentation of the Bulletin is by Hassen Lorgat. Marta Garrich helped with additional editing and layout of the newsletter. Simo Gumede is responsible for the members and partners database management. **Graphic used in this edition of the bulletin header image: courtesy of the Tri-continental Institute.

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