Dear Friend, welcome to the inaugural edition of the Bench Marks Bulletin. We hope to give you an insight into our work. This edition focuses on violence, structural violence exercised by the state (repressive and policy deficiencies) and corporations as well as general societal violence. The focus on Marikana will direct you to some of our public advocacy as well as what our partners and allies are doing, as well as Bishop Jo Seoka’s reflections on the 9th anniversary of the Marikana massacre. We also deal with SLAPP suits and corporate bullying, and the damning impacts of corporate mining on poor communities which we believe has made communities vulnerable to diseases and epidemics. But communities have not just been taking all what has been thrown at them: they have resisted.
Over the centuries humans have learnt the lessons of solidarity, compassion and mutual assistance and that these values are superior to corporate greed and competitiveness of our society. We grew up and continue to espouse slogans such as The Movement Makes Us strong, Unity is Strength, Solidarity Forever, An Injury to One is an Injury to All and we must continue to do so as we build the much needed slogans into action, into reality.
We hope you will share these and grow the movement for social justice. If you have any feedback to this Bulletin or seek to contribute, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Nine years on and no justice for the victims.
On the 16th August 2012, rock drill workers went on strike for better wages and living conditions.
Nine years later justice is still far off. Lonmin now owned by Sibanye-Stillwater has still not apologised, and has not compensated the victims, orphans, those injured, and the families of the deceased. The most shocking event in the life of South Africa democracy continues with whispers of justice, but in reality, no one is interested in unearthing the truth around the terrible events that took place that day.
Given that the state’s compensation process has been pitifully slow, it is up to Sibanye-Stillwater to step up to the plate and plough some of the profits made in a very good trading year into compensation funds, that address the needs of the the deceased workers’ families, the injured, and those psychologically impacted upon.
But this issue goes much deeper, both at the level of big mining corporations and the state. We still ask who gave the command to kill workers who were demanding their human rights? What does the lack of justice given out tell us about the political economy of South Africa? More importantly what does it tell us about the working class and poor, and their role in a democratic South Africa.
It would seem to be that the message has been sent out: Don’t mess with production and profits in the mining sector. We will not entertain strikes and protests. We will deal with you.
Bench Marks maintains that the economy must serve the people and not people serving the economy. This fundamental moral principle of putting people first has to override profit, has to guide us as to developing an economy with just wages, just living conditions and moral and ethical practices by big corporations. We hope that the 10th anniversary will be the reckoning point, where justice prevails from the company, its buyers of platinum and the state. Anything short of this will require intensifying the international campaign, and leaving no stone unturned with the widows and the families and our partners to find justice for the fallen and other workers and the poor.
By John Capel
There has been a lot of writing about Marikana. Here we present some snippets of our work and that of our allies.
On 15 August, Bishop Jo Seoka in his Op-ed “Lest We Forget”, writes “16 August 20201 marks nine years of untold consequences of police brutality on the koppie at Marikana in the North West Province, dubbed the Marikana Massacre, where 34 striking miners were shot and killed by the police.
Truth be told, it was an unprecedented development ignited by years of exploitation as a result of the migratory labour system that set up black lives for another massacre in a democracy”.
Further he wrote that “all that the workers wanted and appealed to the employer, Lonmin, was a living wage. Instead, they got live ammunition rewarding them with death and graves and not money or decent housing.
The former president Jacob Zuma saga nearly reminded us of what we wish to forget despite the reality of history repeating itself. Thinking about the Marikana Massacre we cannot help but wish to bury our heads in the sand. Ten years later, the miners died for profits in a degrading capitalist system.
It is no secret that in the same year that the Lonmin CEO and his executive directors, and non-executives, were allegedly rewarded with hefty bonuses and ran all the way to the bank smiling, unperturbed by the widows occasioned by greed.”
Bishop then pointed out that the Lonmin CEO Ben Magara received a R11 million bonus in shares, whilst the workers went “limping to their homes with grief and empty hands”. The case of Mzoxolo Magidiwane was highlighted as he did not “receive a cent for their arrest and injury”. But he is amongst many “surviving victims, widows, and orphans of the Marikana massacre have nothing to show in direction of empathy for a humane existence”. The bishop was clear that the “culprits who perpetrated the crime, that claimed lives of innocent mine workers, are still enjoying the rewards of the “job well done” (sic) and so are the directors including the sitting president who is yet to publicly atone for the callous sins, omission and commission and his role in the Marikana Massacre”.
The International solidarity group Plough Back the Fruits reminds us Sibanye Stillwater (the corporation that bought Lonmin) has been active in trying to shape up its image, but warns that “…Sibanye-Stillwater has many of the same problems as Lonmin, especially regarding occupational health and safety. Time and again, hundreds of miners have to be rescued from mine shafts after collapses. In 2020 alone, Sibanye-Stillwater had to report 9 deaths”.
A sister organisation, Socio Economic Rights Institute (SERI), has been hard at work in seeking justice from the state. Their demands on behalf of 34 families they explained as “claims for loss of support are separate from the claims for constitutional and general damages and from future medical expenses. Claims for loss of support aim to afford the claimants the same standard of living they had when they were being supported by the deceased.
General damages pertain to the loss or harm suffered by a person which is not quantifiable in monetary terms, such as pain and suffering, emotional harm and loss of amenities of life. The families’ claims for general damages aim to compensate them for the grief, shock and trauma they suffered as a result of the violent manner in which they lost their loved ones”
The SERI statement further adds that “to date, the State has settled the loss of support claim for 34 families and paid out just over R70 million. The amounts paid out to each family were actuarially calculated and these payments were made in three tranches in August 2018, November 2018 and September 2019. The state chose the actuary. The calculation was based partly on how many more years of employment the deceased had prior to reaching pension age, at the time of death. As such, individual families received payments for loss of support ranging from approximately R100 000 to R3 million. SERI received an offer for the 35th family and was informed that the State would not provide compensation for the 36th family as it believed that the deceased miner did not have a duty to support his unemployed siblings because he was raised in a child‑headed household.
The families have submitted claims “for Constitutional and general damages as well as future medical expenses either as children, widows, parents or siblings of the deceased miners, for example. In response, the State has made an offer of R500 000 per family, which the families have rejected”. The reason the families rejected the claims was that it was not for individual loss and suffering but it was done per family. This is obviously less. In addition, SERI rejected the figure of R500 000 “as irrational and has no basis because an offer to pay each family as a collective would disadvantage families that are much larger in size”.
In addition, the families through their lawyers last year suggested that the state set up a Marikana Welfare Fund which would be the facility that would ensure that the widows of the deceased miners could obtain monthly grants to support them and their families. With the Covid 19 pandemic the impact of poverty and marginalisation has been worsened.
When I first heard of the legal attack on a defenceless community in Kolwezi in Zambia by a giant Canadian Transnational Corporation called First Quantum Mining, I became a volunteer in the struggle to defend the community.
The Southern African Resource Watch (SARW) are organising and have undertaken research into the living conditions and the impacts of mining on the community. To cut a long story short, SARW bent over backwards without compromising research and social justice principles in undertaking the study. At the end of the day, the NGO could not compromise any longer and FQM instituted a SLAPP suit against the NGO and its researchers and leaders.
What is a Slapp suit? Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) is a legal stratagem used by unscrupulous businesses to stop human rights defenders from raising concerns about their harmful practices. SLAPPs can take the form of criminal or civil lawsuits brought to intimidate, bankrupt, and silence critics. They are an abuse of the legal system by powerful actors. This approach deflects human rights defenders from doing their work on defending, promoting and consolidating democracy and other rights including freedom of expression and assembly.
As we started talking and organising around it, SARW approached Richard Spoor Inc to defend SARWATCH leaders and the community against the Slapp. In addition, many organisations spoke up to defend the community and, in the process, a number of other stories unfolded. We have learnt that Slapp suits are not about this or that company – but it is more widespread then we believe.
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) is an organisation that played a leading role in defending the SLAPP action against the Australian Corporation Mineral Sands Resources (MSR). MSR then in 2017 launched a SLAPP suit against attorneys Christine Reddell and Tracey Davies (formerly from the Centre for Environmental Rights), and community activist Davine Cloete. We may all know that MSR is a subsidiary of the controversial Mineral Resources Commodities (MRC), that has tried to impose titanium mining in Xolobeni. We still remember how Bazooka Radebe was killed and that the killers have not been found. The community still faces legal and political threats, which have not been resolved.
What is interesting is that MSR took action against the lawyers and the activist Davine Cloete after they took part in a summer school which aimed to educate those present about civil society challenges in organising against the negative impacts of mining on the environment, water supplies and peoples lives. The corporation responded by suing all key speakers. Inexplicably to me, the lawyers (Reddell and Davies) were each sued for R250 000 in damages and activist Davince Cloete for R750 000.
When the South African courts ruled on 9 February 2021 in favour of CER and their partners, civil society groups were ecstatic. The ruling of the Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath goes a long way towards keeping corporations accountable. Justice Goliath ruled that “[the] social and economic power of large trading corporations renders it critically important that they be open to public scrutiny… In instances where corporates could be the main cause of damaging and destructive behaviour of the environment and biodiversity, civil society should be allowed to confront and restrain such behaviour.”
Thus, the actions of civil society organisations in pursuance of public interest objectives were vindicated. However, the CER did not stop there and organised and with various partners set up the web resource ASINA LOYIKO. The aim of the resource was to create awareness of Slapps and other forms of Corporate Bullying.
The struggles of SARW and FQM, and the movements and NGOs responses to it, has reinvigorated the campaign and a number of organisations have agreed to join the relaunch of Asina Loyiko, working with CER. These include SAR-Watch, Center for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), the Right to Know (Right to Protest Project), Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), Bench Marks Foundation and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
A spokesperson of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre informed the Bulletin that SLAPPs are a growing global problem including Africa: “We have produced a report SLAPPed but not silenced: defending human rights in the face of legal risks. The report identifies 355 cases that bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs since 2015. 8.5% of these cases took place in Africa, with South Africa being one of the most affected countries”.
The examples of history are replete with stories of complacency by many when others were under attack. Let this latest Slapp suit against FQM serve as a warning to civil society groups to organise. If not, it will only be a matter of time before these corporations come for you. We have to get better organised so that the killings of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe (March 2016) and Fikile Nshangase (October 2020) – who resisted the intrusion of coal mining Somkhele coal mine in KwaZulu-Natal – would not have been in vain.
The date for the virtual relaunch is set for 18 October 2021.
Watch out on the Asina Loyiko websise for details of how to join.
By Hassen Lorgat
An important aspect of this process has been and still is the Bench Marks Community Activist Action Training Programme. By early February 2020, the organisation had discussed and developed its programme in this regard for the year, only to be confronted by the Coronavirus Pandemic and South Africa’s first lockdown, which by international standards was one of the ‘hardest’. Bench Marks almost overnight had to start functioning completely remotely and faced a significant challenge. How can training and problem solving be conducted virtually in the context of the poorly resourced communities the organisation works with?
In addition, most of these communities are situated in remote areas with poor communications signal and erratic or no electricity supply. While most community activists have cell phones of some form, few or no activists could afford the required data for daily communications, no matter a training programme. While there were learnings every step of the way, Bench Marks successfully rose to this challenge. Following the March 2020 lockdown implementation, forty four community activists from at least thirty mining communities across Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West Provinces in South Africa were identified and engaged, technology challenges assessed and addressed, new and innovative remote training and learning methods evolved, six community activist facilitators trained, a structured coordinating system set up, with three community activist coordinators at the centre, materials suitable for the new methods designed, and trail runs held.
Data was provided by Bench Marks with the funds saved by not now having transport and venue costs. An important aspect was a learning by trial and error approach, one month at a time. This meant the programme was structured in monthly modules with an evaluation at the end of each month, informing the planning for the next month. This was necessary due to the new and unpredictable terrain being traversed. An important factor was an already established Bench Marks Community Monitors Network, along with the associated electronic chat groups and experience in their use.
Re-orientated focus and new methods
The focus of the 2020 Activist Training Programme was also re-orientated around the Coronavirus Pandemic and associated issues. The first phase involved all community activists writing and posting their observations and experiences on the impact of the virus and lockdown. This provided vitally important information and also acted as a trail run to get communication systems fully functional. A publication was produced from this exercise, entitled Voices from Communities Living Near Mines in South Africa on the Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic. A set of Coronavirus-linked issues were then identified which formed the training focus. Activist Issue Groups were formed addressing various impacts of the Pandemic. This included food security, health care, schooling, the situation of women and children, and access to water.
The training methodology involved the use of WhatsApp texting, voice messages, attachment of short documents and brief videos of specialist information. An entire workshop was carried out in this manner, driven by a facilitator. This eliminated the need for participants having good signal, which was a key challenge. Planning and evaluation meetings, involving community coordinators, facilitators and Bench Marks staff, were carried out with the use of the zoom facility. Going ahead, the aim was to hold training workshops largely by zoom, but this is dependent upon improved technology and the poor signal issue being addressed.
An important learning from the 2020 programme was the advantages of remote training, including the unlimited reach to community members in far-away places, the rapid and cost-effective establishment of workshops and other activities without the need to travel, arrange venues and accommodation, and and how much can actually achieved through remote communication with the necessary political will and innovation. In terms of key challenges experienced, in addition to poor network signal, erratic power supply and inadequate ICT, an important challenge was that plans have to be significantly downscaled in terms of speed of work and ground covered, with everything taking considerably longer to complete. Meticulous planning, organising and discipline are also required. Other challenges prevailed, such as working remotely being alien to established forms of organising and requiring considerable adjustment.
In spite of significant challenges, a range of concrete outcomes were achieved from the 2020 training programme. This included activist Issue Groups successfully completing their projects and producing booklets on their experiences and learnings. This included four publications: Sowing Seeds of Change in Communities Living near Mines; Community Voices on Food Prices During the Covid-19 Pandemic; Young Women and Men in Mining Communities Speak Out – We Dream of a Community Free of Violence; and Save Our Education During Covid – Voices of School Students in Mining Communities.
These developments and learnings were then taken forward into the 2021 programme, with further adjustments made which are still underway. This includes the further development of three community Resource Centres based in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West Provinces. These Centres will be equipped with Wifi facilities to counteract the ongoing network problems experienced, along with the provision of a laptop. This stands to greatly enhance the use of zoom and other electronic facilities when holding meetings and training sessions. Key activist coordinators have been provided with good quality laptops and the provision of power banks to deal with ongoing power outages is also planned. Network enhancers for key community activists living too far away from Resource Centres are also in the pipeline.
The challenges continue to rise however. The cumulative impact of now being in the second year of working under the Pandemic and lockdown conditions, including deepening poverty and Covid-19 illness, is taking its toll both at an individual and organisational level. This requires further resolve, innovation, adaptation and vision.
In this piece I have used the concept “learnings” which I want to further explain.
Learnings spanned across technological, organisational, methodological, emotional and other aspects. This included new remote training techniques; new forms of materials suitable for remote training; everything taking considerably longer to complete and having to factor this in; the essential need for meticulous planning, organising and discipline; and the impact working remotely being alien to established forms of organising. Information technology learnings included how to use the zoom facility effectively and make creative use of whatsapp under conditions of poor network signal, such as voice messaging and videos. The many organisational benefits of remote communication, such as rapid and cost effective reach to community activists, was a key learning that will be taken forward.
By Jeremy Daphne
A meeting place to learn about organisations, networks, movements and people resisting injustices and whom we work with.
RIVERLEA is a small community situated in the Southeast of Johannesburg and built around a mine dump and other dumps towering over it. The Bench Marks Foundation Research team works with an organization in Riverlea called Riverlea Community Forum which was formed in November 2019 and based in No. 26 Kalomo street in Riverlea, JHB.
The great impetus for the increased organisation of the community came from the Soweto Study, which was led by the Research Department of the organisation. This study highlighted the negative impact that mining on the Witwatersrand has had on people’s lives, especially on those living to the south of mining operations. These problems were found to be true by many other groups such as the South African Human Rights Commission and these include respiratory problems, exposure to radioactive mine waste, acid mine drainage, unprotected mine waste sites, and severe threats to Gauteng’s underground water supplies. This contrasts with the massive profits that have flowed to mine owners over more than a century…
This neighborhood has suffered for decades and now is living with the aftermath of mining. In Riverlea, community members have complained for a long time about the chemicals from solid metals seeping through walls and making houses radioactive. In addition, they have suffered from chest pains, sores, and TB. Unemployment and substance abuse is also widespread and has penetrated the schools which will and has given rise to other social problems.
The most urgent pain has been the abandoned Central Rand Gold mine, (CRG) as it was posing a danger to the community. The community blames many mining companies but in the firing line is DRD Gold. DRD Gold has been breaking down the old dump to reclaim the precious metals and thus causing air and water pollution. Through measuring dust, we have proven that most illnesses such as respiratory problems faced by the community are caused by the surrounding areas.
Subsequently, the Bench Marks Foundation Research Department together with the Riverlea Mining Forum engaged with the DRD Gold Rehabilitation project. Its aim was to refocus rehabilitation of damaged ecosystems to meet the needs of people’s health and the environment as well as animal life..
In addition, the Foundation has initiated a joint program with UJ Medical Department and National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) focusing on dust pollution. It is a work in progress but tentative results appear positive. Strategies are underfoot to explore using hibiscus cannabis plants to absorb the toxic metals from the soil and water and to restore the water and soil to its original state and with purified water. It is hoped that these plants can contribute towards food production and job creation.
To read more about Riverlea, visit: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jul/06/radioactive-city-how-johannesburgs-townships-are-paying-for-its-mining-past
By Simo Gumede
28-29 SEPTEMBER, 5-6.30PM: Tailing Facilities Workshop, hosted by the Bench Marks Foundation, IANRA, together with Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada on the need for an effective global standard on tailings management. In the BMF-IANRA studies in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, community groups have accused the law as being inadequate and a cause of the comorbidities which made them ripe for the Covid 19 infections.
Globally, we remember the massive mine waste spill that killed hundreds of people in Brumadinho (Brazil) in 2019.The company responsible was Vale, and it was their neglect that resulted in the Brumadinho dam containing waste from an iron ore mine giving way, unleashing a sea of mud which engulfed a staff canteen, offices and farms. This disaster killed 270 people and civil society groups have campaigned for justice including financial compensation from the company.
This disaster many civil society groups have regarded as not an “accident but criminal negligence. After 19 years of community activism on mining, social, and environmental issues here in Minas Gerais, Brazil, I can say with confidence that this Global Industry Standard is unfortunately too weak and will not end mine waste disasters. It will only serve to perpetuate poor practices.” – Maria Teresa Corujo, Movement for the Mountains and Waters of Minas Gerais (Brazil).
Civil society organisations have strongly criticised ICMM’s Global Standards – which are voluntary and self-monitoring – for being ineffective. In return, frontline community groups, environmental and human rights organizations, labor unions and technical experts endorsed Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management.
The Bench Marks Foundation endorsed the report when it came out. The document states that the ultimate goal of tailings management must be zero harm to people and the environment and zero tolerance for human fatalities. It lays out 16 guidelines for safer storage that include prohibiting dangerous mining practices, respect for affected communities, and holding mining companies legally and financially accountable for their actions.
Since June 2020, activists have been learning and giving feedback, which the authors of Safety First (Earthworks, MiningWatch Canada, London Mining Network, Dr. Ann Maest, Dr. David Chambers, Dr. Steven Emerman, and Dr. Bruno Milanez) have begun a process to revise and update the guidelines. Safety First will likely need periodic updating to ensure it represents the experiences and needs of civil society, technical experts, and especially communities affected by tailings dams.
The 2021-2022 revision process consists of a public comment portal and a series of regional workshops. This workshop will assist in developing an African response to the problems of tailings facilities.
Sept. 28, 5-6.30pm SAST, will focus on technical aspects of the report. Technical expert, Dr. Dave Chambers will give an introduction to tailings management and safety, he will present guidelines 1-10, with time for questions and discussion after.
Sept. 29, 5-6.30pm SAST, will focus on community consent, corporate accountability and minimizing risk to communities. Jan Morrill from Earthworks will present guidelines 11-16 with time for questions and discussion after.
If you are interested, contact email@example.com
29 SEPTEMBER: Mine Dust, Water and Disabilities – Snake Park Soweto with academia, UCT, UJ and Wits University and the National Institute on Occupational Health. The focus will be on dust and water pollution impacts on children and women and the resultant disabilities. Check out for more details on our Facebook Page.
6 OCTOBER, 10AM-12PM: Mining Communities’ Organising in the Times of Pandemics, with Mmathapelo Thobejane and Olebogeng Motene. Moderated by Eric Mokoua, the team will explore how monitoring of corporations and government has been under conditions of COVID 19, focusing on the media they have produced. You can expect to hear them read from their writings and also catch how they have produced Whatsapp radio and other video inserts. Their work is prominently displayed on http://communitymonitors.net/
TO JOIN, GO TO https://bit.ly/OrganisingUnderCovid
19 OCTOBER, 10AM-12PM: Opening up the Artisanal Mining Policy Space, focusing on Bench Marks work in South Africa on Artisanal Mining and our policy work on regulating this sector of the economy. Bench Marks works with a number of Civil Society bodies that will contribute to the discussion. For more details, check out our next newsletter and/or Facebook Page.