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15th June 2024

November 2022

Dear Hassen, November always seems to have too much to say and do. In this edition, we deal with tailings, following hot after our annual conference focus on mine closure. We also discuss the hot air from political and corporate elites, which is worsening the climate catastrophe because it is mere corporate spin. Our work in the field and the constitutional court ruling on Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (Slapps) are featured in this bulletin. Finally, this edition announces the big news that founding chairperson Bishop Jo Seoka has decided to retire from his post as chair of the Bench Marks Foundation.

· OPINION ·

Climate short-changed in Egypt?

On 20 November, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), took place in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh. Whilst the UN and others welcomed the decisions “to establish and operationalize a loss and damage fund,” many others are not so sure if all was well in Egypt… The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that more needs to be done to drastically reduce emissions now. “The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition” and this we can agree on. But there are other concerns.

Many civil society groups have criticised the Egyptian government and world governments for permitting the repression and exclusion of local and national NGOs at the conference. It was supposed to be an African COP, but there can be no African COP without African Citizens. Others have raised concern about the failure to integrate a feminist perspective in the deliberations on climate justice.

What is disturbing is the report that more fossil fuel lobbyists registered at COP27 “than representatives of the ten countries most impacted by climate change”. Global CSOs working under one banner argued further that:
 “636 fossil fuel lobbyists have been registered to the COP27 climate talks, affiliated with some of the world’s biggest polluting oil and gas giants. This is an increase of over 25% from COP26, showing a rise in the influence of the fossil fuel industry at the climate talks that are already rife with accusations of civil society censorship and corporate influence.

Data analysis of the UN’s provisional list of named attendees by Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), and Global Witness (GW), reveals the scale at which corporate actors with a stake in the continued burning of fossil fuels have been enjoying access to these critical talks. The findings are giving fuel to a growing global push to safeguard the talks from polluter interference.”


To read the full statement please visit: Endorse this global call to world governments You may also choose to join in demanding world governments #KickBigPollutersOut of the climate talks! 

You can read here the full implementation plan what was agreed upon by heads of governments.

There are implications to the president Cyril Ramphosa going with a begging bowl to international funding for the just transition. Sister organisation AIDC believes that this is not a good thing as it seems to have been done without much discussion and transparency, which could lead to non accountability. The organisation lists these loans emerged in 2021, which they say “will amount to $8.5 billion is unacceptable”. Why, they ask, was the executive nor parliament not informed or fully engaged they ask? The loan made this year, they say, is the 3rd loan in a very short time. “This one is from France and Germany and amounts to €600 million (currently R10,6 billion). South Africa also received a $497 million World Bank loan in October to repurpose the Kumati coal fire plant. In January, the government had already taken a $750 million loan from the World Bank anchored in a joint ‘Country Partnership Framework’ that dictates the austerity policy of the Treasury.” 

Instead, the AIDC argues that local or domestic borrowing needs to be prioritised so that they invest in a transition to a low-carbon economy: our government could go to the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), which has “more than R2.3 trillion in accumulated reserves.. It can redirect large levels of speculative investment in the JSE into more sustainable investment in the real economy towards re-industrialising the South African economy. This can ensure that we combat climate change and address mass structural unemployment. We also can raise additional resources by increasing the progressivity of the South African tax framework”.

We cannot resolve the intergenerational problems by burdening future generations with debt. Debt at many levels from the economy, society and politics. The obvious deficits in human rights and democracy in the decision making are worrying. Also, where will the future citizens get the funds to pay back these gigantic amounts when we – our generation – have burdened them unjustly? If it is not so, let us discuss the reasons why we need to borrow outside and ask whether this is sustainable.

ARTICLES

Bishop Jo Seoka 

Most searches on the life of Bishop Seoka inevitably starts like this:

Johannes Thomas Seoka (born 29 August 1948) is a retired South African Anglican bishop. He was the Bishop of Pretoria from 1998 to 2015. Bishop Jo Seoka studied at Eshowe College of Education in KwaZulu-Natal and at the University of Chicago in the United States of America. Later studied to become a priest and was ordained in 1975 working in many places. 

It often also includes the role he played advocating for the workers and their families in Marikana. Whilst the above information is not wrong, it is incomplete as the man is integrally linked to the Bench Marks Foundation.
As part of the regular Monday staff meetings, I did not expect to hear this at the meeting. The acting executive director of the Bench Marks Foundation Mr Moses Cloete, in a sombre report back from the board meeting, informed the staff: the Chairperson of the board of the Foundation, Bishop Jo Seoka, has resigned. He has led the organisation since inception over 20 years ago.
One of the members of the board who was present then, commented on the significance of this moment. “Bishop Seoka was the initiator of the BMF as we have come to know it. Initially he invited 5 organisations to become the founding members of the BMF board – Ecumenical Service for Socioeconomic Transformation (ESSET), the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), the South African Council of Churches (SACC), the Christian Development Trust (CDT) Foundation and Industrial Mission (where I was the organising secretary at the time). Each of these South African Christian organisations nominated an individual to represent them on the BMF board. 

Arch Desmond Tutu and his wife were both willing to become the patrons of the BMF at the founding meeting in 2001 at the Braamfontein Hotel in Johannesburg. 

From the beginning up until his recent retirement, Bishop Seoka as chairperson was the driving force. Along with the board and the able assistance of the then CEO Mr Capel, as well as dedicated staff, BMF had grown to become a leader in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility,” Pastor Piet Beukes told the Bulletin.

The staff members share these sentiments and acknowledged the role Bishop Seoka has played in making the Foundation what it is today. Thank you comrade Bishop for your stewardship and solidarity.

Forward to a Continental Network on SLAPPs

The Constitutional Court ruled on SLAPP suits and here we share as background the article of the Centre for Environmental Rights. The CER is a leading member of Asina Loyiko and they were actively involved in this concourt case.

They commented on the Court ruling thus: “The pair of landmark judgments handed down by the South African Constitutional Court on Monday for the first time recognise SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) as an abuse of process, and carve out a limitation to trading corporations’ ability to claim damages for reputational harm. The judgments have important consequences for the protection of activism and the rights and responsibilities of corporations in South Africa and beyond.” 

Read the full article here.
The full (SLAPP suit) judgement can be accessed here.
 
The Bench Marks Foundation believes that the judgement has helped us to defend if not advance our rights but more needs to be done. We need to build here, there and everywhere on our continent. It is for this reason the organisation has supported Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) in their SLAPP case instituted upon them by First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian company based in Zambia.

It is for this reason that the SARW in collaboration with Bench Marks Foundation in the face of this decision have redoubled their efforts towards helping to form an African-wide network on Slapps: Coalition Against SLAAPs in Africa (CASA). Casa means home in Portuguese and Spanish and it is the intention to make this an open space for like minded people seeking to work on SLAPPs.

Accordingly, the organisers are making a call to various sectors that have been impacted upon on our continent. These sectors include journalists, environmental, anti extractivist and human rights activists as well as whistleblowers, rights defenders and other watchdog civil society organisations. They know the lonely road travelled to ensure that corporations are held accountable for their actions.

Finally, a final comment about the constitutional court judgement and by implication the wider judicial / legal system: the legal judgement and, as a whole, the language of law is too complex and is part of the problem. There is a need for legal literacy and for judges and the members of parliament to speak in plain English. Plain English must become part of the agenda of those seeking justice from the powerful, in particular the government and corporations.

From the ground: Community Engagement Forums do not work for us, says communities

The Sekhukhune Combined Mining Affected Communities (SCMAC) together with the Business and Human Right Centre convened an important “dialogue” / indaba with their community and some mining companies.

The organisations set out to hear the views of the companies on “community engagement” and to find out why the corporations failed to meet and negotiate with communities on their concerns. Even this modest initiative was not openly accepted by the corporations since all of them were invited to the meeting but only two attended, Anglo Platinum and Sefateng Chrome.

They had to face the strong criticism of the community. This is what the community told them:

All the corporations in the region are taking advantage of the skewed power relations over communities and other stakeholders.

  • There is a deep schism between communities and the mining companies in the Sekhukhuni area.
  • The current community engagement forums do not serve the communities. They are platforms utilised to the benefit of the company. The company has been suffering legitimacy and credibility from the communities for paying lip service to their commitment.
  • This gap between what companies write about themselves on the subject of community engagement and the practice on the ground has led to protests against the company. The recent protest marches directed at Anglo platinum by the community demanded that Twickenham shaft not be closed.
  • The denial of a real right to participate and have a real voice in decision making is a cause for serious concern. The community also picketed at the launch of Anglo-American Platinum Hydrogen power project, as the community – who are to be the beneficiaries of decarbonation through just transition – feel left out of the process. Anglo American like to portray themselves as climate change champions, when they have largely contributed to much of the impending climate catastrophe according to many international NGOs. 

There were also protests during the Anglo America AGM on the 19 April. Communities in Sekhukhune and Mogalakwena protested and sent their views to the Shareholders so that they could be heard. According to London Mining Network, the previous CEO Mark Cutifani attempted to respond to issues in South Africa, in particular Limpopo. In summary, he said Natasha Viljoen and her team are negotiating on the ground to attend to relocation issues and many others.

However, this statement falls flat on its face, as it is openly known by Bench Marks Foundation that the Viljoen’s team he refers to, is not engaging with the relocated families of Magobading Village nor does it engage in good faith with any other community facing relocation. In the next Bulletin, I will write about the ways and means of Anglo Platinum, how they divide and rule and fail to talk to mining communities as they relocate the 1 000 households in the Mogalakwena region.

The community demands are clear: do not go through the motions and talk a beautiful talk, even including words of human rights. Human rights must include the affected and impacted communities and must leave them better off – in terms of health and safety, quality housing, dignity and much more. Show; do not spin.

By Eric Mokuoa

An activist at a demonstration at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, last year. (Photo: Kim Ludbrook/ EPA-EFE)

Dear President

We hope this letter finds you well. There are many urgent issues we want to talk to you about but time and space does not permit us to do so. This Bulletin coincides with the international campaign to end violence against women. We are talking about the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. 

It is for this reason that we will focus on the second Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. In your opening speech, you highlighted its urgency calling it an accountability summit. You said that you wanted to assess the progress made in “fulfilling the commitments we made at the first Summit in 2018 and in implementing the National Strategic Plan.”

You emphasised that it is “a collaborative and coordinated approach towards combating gender-based violence and femicide”. You used WE a lot but I want to discuss only one. “We need to plan together, implement together and account together.” This cannot be right: you or the government must give the lead and ensure that resources are put into combatting the violence against women by men. It is the government who must resource the police and the criminal justice system to ensure that there is no secondary victimisation or abuse of those who are victims and survivors of violence.

The SAPS statistics are appalling. There is a war out there. Human Rights Watch and other groups pointed out the August 2020 release statistics reveal that there is a “13 percent increase in reported cases of sexual offences and rape between 2017/18 and 2021/22, and a 52 percent increase in the killings of women between the first quarters of 2021 and 2022”. 

Whilst some groups welcomed your interventions (rushed as they were) just before the Summit as not good enough but nevertheless welcome, the Human Rights Watch differed. They argued that “the government did not use the summit to make a commitment for clear steps to implement the ambitious National Strategic Plan. It did not make a firm commitment nor did it say how funds would be provided for priority services and for tracking, transparency and public accountability for its use. How is the government going to finance all Thuthuzela Care centres, Sexual Offences courts and GBVF desks within police stations to make sure they are functional? The President only mentioned the allocation in February 2021 of approximately R21 billion over three years to carry out the strategic plan,  an amount that the National Treasury itself considers insufficient.”

Is this not the reason why the binding final resolutions of this conference are seemingly not available online? It would be good to see and read the final outcomes from the conference. Where can it be found? Once it is available, it must be shared widely in society, particularly the action points. 

We have decided to remove your photo that we have used for this feature for a simple reason. We will be using the image from an NGO, who at the time of the conference pointed out the long road you (WE) still have to travel in addressing this scourge of rape and violence of women by men. Your words at the conference still rings out aloud, when you said that “just as babies are not being spared, even the elderly have become targets of violent men…” We have a long way to go as a society to redeem our humanity.

RESOURCES AND REPORT BACKS

☑️ GLOBAL TAILINGS INSTITUTE: we meet with UNEP and PRI

Recently the Bench Marks Foundation and its national and international allies met with representatives of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), to advise them on what kind of global institution we desire for tailings management.

The meeting was initiated by Jan Morill, from Earthworks, and Hassen Lorgat, from the Bench Marks Foundation (South Africa), who is the coordinator of the South Africa Tailings Working group. Also in attendance was Eric Mokua (Bench Marks) and Mariette Liefferink (Federation for a Sustainable Environment). She’s both an internationally recognized expert on the impacts of TSFs. South African community activist Tiny Dhlamini was also present, all the way from Snake Park, Soweto (South Africa).

You can catch up on the conversation revisiting the online recording of the meeting.

⏯ IT’S TIME TO THINK BIG

The rich webinar organised by Daily Maverick was conducted with an openness and generosity of spirit is worth engaging in. The panellists were great and argued passionately. They shared their books and articles which for our constituencies of poor and working people is welcomed:

🌱 RIGHTS TO NATURE

“The rights of nature movement has celebrated its first European victory as Spain enshrined into national law the rights of the Mar Menor lagoon to exist and be protected and preserved. 
Mar Menor, Europe’s largest saltwater lagoon, has suffered from massive die-offs of aquatic life in recent years brought on by pollution from agriculture, sewage and other development. 
In 2020, Eduardo Salazar, a Spanish environmental lawyer, and Teresa Vicente Gimenez, a professor of philosophy of law at Murcia University, began a quest for legislative recognition of Mar Menor’s rights, the highest form of protection under the law, with a “popular legislative initiative,” a participatory democratic mechanism in Spain’s constitution. Salazar called the existing conventional environmental laws intended to protect the lake “useless.”

Read more.

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.