The Bench Marks Foundation is pleased to invite you to its annual conference which will take place on 10 & 11 October 2023, at the Sunnyside Park Hotel, Johannesburg. The Conference is in person and online and is organised under the theme CRITICAL RAW MATERIALS: FOR WHOM? AT WHAT COST?
Will the renewed scramble for raw materials continue to keep nations and communities affected by extraction subjugated and impoverished? Will communities benefit or will they be trampled by this new rush to riches? These questions our conference will boldly engage with, also featuring a number of national and international speakers on the subject which will be confirmed at a later date.
Unfortunately, the Bench Marks Foundation as a civil society organisation does not have funds to pay for your transport and accommodation and thus encourage many to join online. Our core constituencies must follow the usual procedures to attend in person and do so urgently.
Over the past decade and a half, Europe, the USA and their allies, China and other big players, have been accumulating critical raw materials, which they say will propel societies into a new Green New Deal and a Just Energy Transition.
Raw materials have always been a source of development / underdevelopment and repression / resistance and conflict and over the centuries has been associated with slavery, colonialism, modernism and so on.
The colonists justified the necessity of colonialism because they needed safe and secure sources of raw materials, especially cotton, copper, iron, and rubber, to sustain their growing industrial economies. These ensured a higher standard of living for the colonising countries and “their citizens”.
Today there is a new rush, a scramble for raw materials. Often this is portrayed or overstated as a shift from traditional mining and fossil fuel reliance. Many studies show that solar photovoltaic (PV) (plants that convert sunlight into electrical energy), wind farms and electric vehicles (EVs) generally require more minerals to build than their fossil fuel-based counterparts. This is in addition to the reliance on steel, cement and other ingredients of traditional mining. This all gives mining communities real reasons to fear that their lot may not improve unless pro-people, justice oriented solutions are implemented.
In addition, this rush has become a new scramble for Africa and the minerals of the Global South. Some of the materials considered strategic are the following that will usher in electric cars and mobile telephony, and long life batteries rely on minerals such as lithium, cobalt and so on. The full list of what Europe has deemed important include these:
(a) Bismuth (b) Boron – metallurgy grade (c) Cobalt (d) Copper (e) Gallium (f) Germanium (g) Lithium – battery grade (h) Magnesium metal (i) Manganese – battery grade (j) Natural Graphite – battery grade (k) Nickel – battery grade (l) Platinum Group Metals (m) Rare Earth Elements for magnets (Nd, Pr, Tb, Dy, Gd, Sm, and Ce)
Silicon metal (o) Titanium metal (p)Tungsten
The hazards associated with the mining of these critical / strategic minerals remain high and still those making the sacrifices continue to bear the burden. Siddarth Kara writing in the Guardian noted “every lithium-ion rechargeable battery in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and electric vehicles requires cobalt to recharge. Approximately two-thirds of the global cobalt supply is mined in DRC. A considerable portion of this supply is mined by an informal workforce of artisanal miners, called “creuseurs”.
This begs the questions: Where do we stand as a country? What does civil society say must be done?
In the working groups we will discuss the failures of having a sustainable national development strategy around livelihoods and jobs; the negative impacts of mining such as ineffective tailings management, “forced” relocations to make place for mining, the failure to close mines properly, the pollution and other health impacts of mining.
We have noted that there will be conferences supported by the department of mineral resources and other interested groups in late August and in October as well. These appear to be “business as usual conferences” with high entrance fees for participants, thus excluding most working class and poor citizens from having their voices heard. Government and corporate speakers and participants will be talking to themselves and for this reason we fear that the commitments to beneficiation, job creation, overcoming the ills of mining for workers and mining communities will be forgotten. We wonder whether these conferences will reverse the colonial paradigms of extractivism and mining?
Our civil society conference will put people first, and organise around these strategic minerals and insist that if they have to be mined, it must be done in accordance with respect for rights of people, nature and the planet. As Africans, we must organise ourselves and work for real sovereignty over our polity as well as our economy and natural resources. We are the makers of our own destinies!