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22nd April 2024

August 2023

· JUST IN · 

Elections in Zimbabwe: the SADC Observers Mission for the first time in their interim report have come out to speak plainly. They stated that “the Mission observed that the pre-election and voting phases, on 23-24 August 2023 Harmonised Elections were peaceful, and calm. However, for reasons outlined above, the Mission noted that some aspects of the Harmonised Elections, fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021)”.

Dear comrade, as usual, a lot has been happening but this month where we always discuss Marikana, we also squeeze in the 15th Summit of BRICs nations held in South Africa. It was the talk of the town, and we delve deeper.

We continue to focus on the challenges and struggles of mining affected communities and the social justice movement.  A struggle worth highlighting is the Catholic Church’s support for a class action against coal mining company South32, in which the litigants want to keep them responsible for actions from March 12, 1965, to the present. These struggles to advance the rights of community struggles have not been easy. There has been an increased repression internationally against human rights defenders worldwide as the SLAPP resource article confirms. There is a need to form a continental movement against Slapps, CASA needs those who are interested and have been affected by Slapps in East, West and North Africa. This is the only way out to ensure that we may shape and advance our own destinies.

Our article on Marikana features Seri’s response to the government as well the demands from the Marikana campaign to the government. In addition, we highlight a serious concern by civil society groups of the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill 2023 (GILAB), which has been approved by Cabinet and will be introduced to parliament soon. Civil society organisations are concerned that the security agencies will have too much power to meddle through surveillance and vetting of the work of NGOs and faith organisations. This will undermine constitutional protections to the rights to privacy and freedom of association. Intelwatch – a coalition of the groups fighting the bill – argued that “crucially, GILAB also fails to provide safeguards to prevent the abuse of the SSA’s secret funds. This lack of safeguards was a key dimension of State Capture at the SSA. Given the above aspects, it is vital for civil society organisations to engage with the implications of GILAB and advocate for meaningful reforms that safeguard democratic rights and accountability.”

We also reflect on critical raw materials, which have heated up recently. Many corporations are hosting “business as usual” conferences around the topic and we remind them of what Human Rights Watch has said: “Given the human rights record of the mining sector child labour, expropriation of land, pollution, violence by armed groups – the new rush on these so-called critical minerals is worrisome.” It is for this reason that the 2023 Annual Conference of the Bench Marks Foundation will focus on this theme. This is the kind of work we do with communities, but we will have to do more, with greater intensity and creativity. 

There is a lot of food for thought, reflection and hopefully creative action. Read and pass along.

· OPINION ·

Just Another BRICs in the wall, or something totally different?

At a Third World Network / SARW workshop on BRICs during August, convened to coincide with the 15th Brics Summit, I made an observation on South African Media reporting. The morning talk shows all reflected on Brics and whether it was good for Africans and the Global South. The views were not the same, and obviously it depended on which radio station one was tuning into at that time.

The public radio station SAfm had callers who generally spoke with hope and pride. In addition, they revealed an astute understanding of the power of Europe and, particularly, the USA in the world and its dominance of the global economy, partly because of the use of the dollar as a reserve currency.

Whilst the views were not uniform, one gets a general trend from the public as one caller said they were pleased. He pointed out that two UN security council country /leaders were present, showing that things were looking up. Another on the same station SAfm stated that it was an historic moment where we are not on the menu but at the table planning the meal. 

The morning listeners of the Gauteng based private station Radio 702, who generally are wealthier and historically more pro-Western,  did not share the same level of excitement. This was generally consistent with their usual scepticism that the station’s listeners hold on stuff that is critical of the West. These views, however, were not necessarily shared by the business people who appeared in later shows. 

Since we are interested in the views of the masses, I invite you to share two views which may help us explain the significance of BRICs. The opportunity was presented by two debates on Democracy Now.

The first discussion involves Patrick Bond, a “distinguished professor and director of the Centre for Social Change at the University of Johannesburg, and Trevor Ngwane, South African activist and scholar, director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice at the University of Johannesburg.”

Patrick Bond has been organising “BRICs from below” teach-ins and protests for a long time. He basically argues that these countries are sub-imperialist and repressive. In his voluminous writings on the subject, Bond explains that “contemporary sub-imperialism lubricates global neoliberalism, and that, within Brics, South Africa joins the other ‘deputy sheriffs’ to keep regional law and order (e.g. in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013).” Thus, for Bond, these are not allies but must be treated as capitalists – which they are -, and resisted. 

Trevor Ngwane argued in the same programme that the hopes of the working people that the poor were misplaced. He also pointed out that anti imperialism was not the same as anti-capitalism. 

In both Democracy Now interviews, the participants were asked about the war in Ukraine and the global realignments. But it is better to listen for yourself. 

Vijay Prashad, director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, was a guest a day later. The Tricontinental Institute, like TWN, takes a wider view, and in this discussion Prashad reiterated their support for non alignment, and multipolarity. He spoke in favour of the new bank, amongst other things, saying that it will not encourage or induce people into debt. It was going to be different. He argued “and ever since Dilma Rousseff has come to the helm less than a year ago, she said that the New Development Bank is going to lend without conditionalities, without telling countries that they can’t spend on education or they can’t spend on healthcare. This is a huge departure.”
The strategic questions readers of the BULLETIN must apply their minds to really is this: is Brics a space that will keep a check on Western Imperialist nations or is it part of global capitalism, and thus representing no change at all?

Not fully discussed in these programmes yet surrounding the debate is the growing influence of China in the world and its role in Africa in particular. Often detractors of China ignore the factor of  USA, Europe and the UK power, control and influence in multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the UN security Council and others. In addition, they ignore the fact that China has been a target in more ways than one long before its rise and greater stature today. 

John Pilger has alerted us in his documentary film The Coming War on China (2016) that the economic contests have a military dimension as well. It documents that China is surrounded by 400 US military bases; US naval forces are on the doorstep of China.  He argues quite naughtily that there are “no Chinese naval ships and no Chinese bases off California; there is no demonstrable Chinese military threat to the US, though China has made significant defensive preparations since Obama’s “pivot”.”

By Hassen Lorgat

ARTICLES

Photo by Junior Hannah

COME AND JOIN US ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2023
CRITICAL RAW MATERIALS: FOR WHOM? AT WHAT COST? OCTOBER 10/11, 2023

The Bench Marks Foundation is pleased to invite you to its  annual conference which will take place under the theme of Critical Raw Materials. 

The Conference is in person and online and is organised under the theme: 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. It will take place on 10 & 11 October 2023 at Sunnyside Park Hotel, Johannesburg.

Unfortunately, the Bench Marks Foundation as a civil society organisation does not have funds to pay for your transport and accommodation and encourage many to join online. Those of our core constituencies must follow the usual procedures to attend and do so urgently. Online participants may sign in HERE.

In-person and online participants must register here

Background
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, that sustain their growing industrial economies. These ensured a higher standard of living for the colonizing 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 the so-called Solar photovoltaic (PV) are 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 those 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) (n) Silicon metal (o) Titanium metal (p)Tungsten

These minerals are largely sourced from the Global South and it is for this reason we are emboldened to use this opportunity to organise and build popular movements for a justice transition in energy and other aspects of our lives.

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.

BEWARE OF THOSE THE BUSINESS AS USUAL CONFERENCES
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 these minerals, if they have to be mined, 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!

Marikana: Compensation Blues and Hymns

The struggle for closure following the Marikana massacre is still far off.  Every year, we meet during August and take stock of how much has not been done and the road that we still have to travel. The Lonmin strikes took place during August 2012. 

The claims by the Solicitor General Fhedzisani Pandelani are that: 

  • taxpayers have already forked out R330m in claims lodged by the victims, including R71.2m to 34 of the 36 families of the miners killed in Marikana – all these claimants were represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri);
  • 34 families of those who died had been compensated while two claims still remain unsettled;
  • there is a “false narrative that the government has not paid a cent and we are saying ‘here are the figures that have been audited.'” 

In addition, he called for closure and demanded that there be no further claims. “Having settled their loss of support claims, the families were now claiming further damages from the state belatedly, violating the “once and for all rule”.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) responded that this was not true and argued that Pandelani wilfully misrepresented the position. “This is false. A single civil claim was submitted on behalf of 36 families in August 2015,” Seri said. “The original claim included not only loss of support, but also an apology from the state, provision for future medical expenses for treatment necessitated by the death of their loved ones and general damages for emotional shock and psychological damage caused by the trauma suffered in the aftermath of the massacre.”  

Constitutional and General Damages 

Seri said that its claim also included constitutional damages for emotional suffering and grief with the loss of family life, which includes the loss of parental care for the children of the deceased and spousal support for the widows. As Seri has argued in earlier editions of the Bulletin before, that it was critical to differentiate the claims for loss of support from those of constitutional and general damages, as well as future medical expenses.  

Importantly, they assert that the claim for general damages transcend monetary evaluation, encompassing loss or harm suffered by a person, such as pain and suffering, emotional harm and loss of amenities of life.  This claim aims to assist and to ease the grief, shock and trauma that they suffered due to the manner in which they lost their loved ones. 

Constitutional damages arise from a breach of constitutional rights caused by gross state failure. It is compensation which they say serves as “a rectifying mechanism and as a vindication of the constitutional rights breached. Without consequences, constitutionally guaranteed rights have no meaning.” 

Finally, they concluded that considering the above arguments and the case made thus far, the compensation for loss of support by the state, without additional financial support, was sufficient. Seri confirmed that they were ready to engage constructively with the state to resolve this dark episode of our history.

Marikana: the Struggle for Justice Continues

The Marikana Support Committee held a demonstration on 16 August 2023 to commemorate the massacre of the 34 miners. The picket took place at the Union buildings in Pretoria. They presented a memorandum to President Cyril Ramaphosa which in part suggested that nothing has changed in Marikana. They noted in their memorandum that when the then Premier of the North West Province, Thandi Modise, addressed the community at a memorial held in Marikana in August 2012, we were told that Marikana will be renewed for the better. We thought that by now we would be living in a beautiful place and that we would hunger no more. But these were only empty promises. Marikana has become a living hell. Many of us still suffer in shacks without electricity across the road from Sibanye which is booming with profits.”

They concluded with the following demands:

1.  Prosecution of those responsible for the killings on 16 August 2012.
2.  Reparations for the families of the deceased and to those who lost jobs since 2012.
3.  Urgent and thorough investigations into the ongoing murders of activists in Marikana including Ntombifikile Mthethwa.
4.  A monument below the Koppie must be built in a way that reflects how the community remembers Marikana.
5.  An end to Gender-based violence.
6.  Free basic services and infrastructure for the people of Marikana.

Called by the Sinethemba Women’s Organisation.
Supported by the Marikana Support Campaign (MSC)

FROM THE GROUND

The Minister of Water Affairs and Sanitation – Senzo Mchunu

TAILS UP for the community groups

A statement made by the Department of Water and Sanitation alerted members of the working group on tailings to demand a meeting with DWS. It took us many many months to organise and finally meet the DWS. On August 1, the first of many meetings took place. In their statement, DWS called “on mines to register tailing dams on its database to ensure compliance with dam safety regulations.” And they stated that the department was “updating a database of all tailings or Mine residue deposit dams in the country that meet the requirements to be classified as Dams with a Safety Risk and is calling on mining houses that have not registered their dams as required to submit their information in order to be classified as Dams with the Safety Risk and ensure that they are regulated. 

Tailing dams are dams that are used to store water and waste that come as by-products from the mining processes. Dams with Safety Risk are those dams with minimum height of five metres (5m) and able to store more than fifty thousand cubic metres (50 000 m3) of water or water containing substance.”

They pointed out that the information was required to update, register and monitor tailings dams as required by the National Water Act and the Dam Safety Regulations published in Government Notice R. 139 of 24 February 2012.

The Department Dam Safety Regulation is responsible for ensuring that these storage facilities are regulated and, according to the director Wally Ramokopa, “it was important to provide correct information in order to ensure that the dams are registered and compliant and further advised that for the information to be compiled by a registered engineering professional with knowledge of dams and/ or tailings storage facilities.” 

In our meeting with Mr Ramokopa and his colleagues, he emphasised that a wider meeting with other departments was needed. He confirmed that the department has powers of enforcement. They will be regularly undertaking inspections – at random to ensure that the information from corporations to test the veracity, the correctness of the information and the existence of the dam(s) as well as collaborate with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to ensure compliance. 

In our meeting, the DWS representatives confirmed that they had approached the DMRE to obtain data from the mining houses. At the time of writing, they had received at least 337 tailings dams. We will meet with the DWS further to see if our idea of mapping tailings in a searchable database with community participation will become a reality.

Used by and courtesy of Cape Town Today

UN Special Rapporteur on Toxins and Human Rights

Dr Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on Toxins and Human Rights, visited South Africa from 31 July to 11 August 2023. Orellana and his team will present the report on his visit, his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in September 2024.

As reported in our last Bulletin that a number of  South African civil society organisations including the Bench Marks Foundation met with him on 1 August 2023 at the offices of Legal Resources Centre. The objective of the consultation was for the Special Rapporteur (SR) to receive inputs and recommendations from NGOs on the status of a wide range of issues related to toxics and human rights in South Africa. His brief was detailed but by reproducing it here, we want to remind readers what to look out for in your communities to organise around.

• Exposure to hazardous substances, and its causes and consequences, including for groups in vulnerable situations such as women, children, and people living in extreme poverty;
• Chemicals and hazardous wastes issues, such as extractive industry, including oil, gas and mining (large and small scale mining, uranium mining and coal mining), mercury, e-waste and asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), and other persistent organic pollutants, lead paint, and lead acid batteries;
• Solid waste management and facilities and related challenges in South Africa, including hazardous waste and plastics management;
• The adverse effects of climate change, air quality and its effect on the enjoyment of human rights, including issues of coal combustion, energy efficiency and incineration;
• Assessment of port reception facilities for handling ship generated waste.
• Good practices: with a view to discussing, exchanging, sharing and transferring policy experiences and knowledge;
• Access to information, participation, and free, prior and informed consent;
• Current cases and issues with a view to the application of human rights standards, in particular regarding import and dumping of hazardous wastes, water bodies pollution, pesticides, and any other of relevance.

The Special Rapporteur is passionate about the necessity and importance of implementing international chemicals and waste conventions as well as international, regional and national human rights and environmental standards.

However, given the enormity of the task at hand, we will need more than just passion. We will need increased power and support from CSOs and the government. But the genuine access to an effective remedy for harm caused by hazardous substances and wastes will be a game changer. The Special Rapporteur will keep his eye focused on accountability and redress, particularly with regard to populations with specific vulnerabilities, such as children, women, older persons, workers and local communities, as well as people living in extreme poverty and other marginalised groups.

Whilst the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Ms Barbara Creecy welcomed and supported Dr Orellana’s visit, we hope she would be as enthusiastic in working on the remedial actions that the report will contain when it is released in September. The Minister during the visit urged the “United Nations to support South Africa’s journey from environmental racism to sustainable development and realisation of the human rights contained in Section 24 of the Constitution.”

Image courtesy of SACBC

Way to go, ARCH: the Catholic Church takes on the MINES
This story has been making waves in all the media and now the Bulletin gives you some insights

The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) is working with human rights lawyer Richard Spoor, who filed action against global mining company South32. Archbishop Stephen Brislin has made public the support of the church for the downtrodden. In a statement, he stated the views of the Church:

“Very often ex-mine workers are no longer members of trade unions and, therefore, lack the means and capacity to seek legal recourse from large companies which are responsible for their lung diseases. It is thus incumbent on the Church to give assistance where it can so that the rights of the vulnerable are respected and so that they can access compensation that is legally due to them. Many companies are amenable to settling such cases, but in some instances court action is necessary.” 

The application for certification of a class action filed in the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Local Division, on Tuesday 15 August, seeks recourse for current and former coal miners, as well as dependents of deceased workers who contracted coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD) in the form of pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to the court papers, the applicants seek to hold South32 responsible for actions from March 12, 1965, to the present. The proposed applicant classes include: 

× Current and former coal miners who contracted CMDLD in the form of pneumoconiosis (with or without COPD);
× Current and former coal miners who contracted COPD after working in a South32 mine; and
× Dependents of coal miners who have died due to the illness The applicants argue that South32 breached the legal duties owed to the miners by failing to implement statutorily mandated procedures and protections. As a result, the miners developed incurable lung diseases. 

This class action is a first step toward obtaining justice for all coal miners who have suffered, often without any form of compensation. If approved by the Court, the litigation will cover coal mine workers and dependents from many regions and rural communities given that miners often travel from afar to gain employment. In its social teaching, dating as far back as 1891 when Pope Leo XIII issued the seminal encyclical Rerum Novarum, subtitled “on Capital and Labor,” the Church has been close to the suffering of unskilled and vulnerable workers in the context of unbridled industrialization. Its support for the coal mine workers is a concrete manifestation of its defence of the dignity of work which is a function of God’s creation.

THE MEET - UP

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

The forward march of the BMF
The organisation is governed by a board with fresh new leadership. 

Earlier this year we informed you that the new chairperson from July would be Bishop Phalane. This has changed. Unfortunately, due to work commitments in matters of the church, he will not be taking up the post.

Instead, the post is taken up by the veteran liberation movement leader Nyangana Zithulele Cindi who was featured in our Bulletin November 2021. Comrade Cindi is a veteran of the black consciousness movement and the trade unions and also, in later years, was critically involved with corporate social investment and corporate accountability projects. A history of struggle can be found here

If you do not know how to pronounce his surname, we advise you to go to the entertaining interview on SABC to learn how. Here he was reminiscing of the late president Madiba and advise you to check it out here.

Comrade Cindi will be joined on the board by two new members of the board Dr Natalya Dinat and Constance Galeo Mogale.  

Dr Natalya Dinat is a qualified medical doctor and works in palliative care. She has over the years supported communities affected negatively by mining. She has worked on many campaigns and is a strong advocate of the Climate Justice Charter campaign. 

Constance Galeo Mogale is a seasoned Land Activist having worked for many years in the grassroots movement Land Access Movement of South Africa (LAMOSA). She is the current coordinator of the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD), and is completing her studies towards a Masters Degree.

The full board is comprised of the following:

  • Zithulele Cindi – Chairperson; 
  • Dr Asanda Benya; 
  • Dr Natalya Dinat;
  • Mrs Constance Mogale;
  • Mr Graeme Korner; 
  • Rev Solomon Maans; 
  • Bishop Victor Phalana;
  • Mr Henk Smith;
  • Moses Cloete (ex-officio member)

We wish them a constructive time in the organisation. In addition, the board and the staff wish all those who served over the years the best in retirement.

Staff 
The operational side of the organised is led by the Executive Director and his team, listed hereunder:


Moses G. Cloete   Executive Director
Busi Thabane    General Manager
Simo Gumede    Logistics and Administration Lead
Frieda Subklew-Sehume    Monitoring and Evaluation Lead
Olebogeng Motene    Monitoring School – National Coordinator
Mmathapelo Thobejane    Monitoring School -Regional Coordinator –
Eric Mokuoa    Programme Leader – Africa and Research
David van Wyk    Lead Researcher
Ntebo Pakhisi    Researcher
Hassen Lorgat    Advocacy and Media Manager

And while we have your attention, please note that we have moved! You shall find us now at:
Cotswold House, Greenacres Office Park
1 Rustenburg Rd (on Cnr with Victory Rd) 
Victory Park

Tiny Dhlamini is planting the seeds for a healthier future in a toxic environment
(thanks to the author, the Daily Maverick, for the story and the photo)
By Thom Pierce
21 Aug 2023 

Tiny Dhlamini is on a mission to rehabilitate the abandoned mine dumps at Snake Park. The area is vast but Dhlamini has more than a passion for change; she has a plan.

As you approach Snake Park, the waste dumps created by the long-closed gold mines rise up behind a sea of small houses and shacks. The closer you get, the dustier the air becomes and as you walk past the yards that house goats, chickens and geese, your shoes begin to fill with sand.  

Walk even further and the sand begins to change colour. Clusters of red start to appear, then dark grey and, eventually, you will notice tinges of green. These are the remnants of heavy metals, left over from decades of mining the land for gold. 

The sand that blows into the community below and fills the lungs of every inhabitant is toxic. It contains the same metals that seep into the ground and contaminate the water and soil, including iron, lead, copper, sulphur and uranium. 

Research conducted in 2017 by Bench Marks Foundation concluded that the toxic dust is responsible for hundreds of cases of asthma, severe coughing and children born with mental and physical defects. 

In Johannesburg alone, there are about 240 of these dumps. For thousands of people living downwind from them, it is something that they have learned to live with, a fate that they have had to accept.  

But there is hope… 

Tiny Dhlamini is on a mission to rehabilitate the abandoned mine dumps. The area is vast but Dhlamini has more than a passion for change; she has a plan.  

“I want to see the people of Snake Park living right, in a clean environment where there are no impacts from the mines.” 

Through her work with the Bench Marks Foundation, she has learned that sunflowers, bamboo and Hibiscus cannabinus plants will clean up the soil. They will detoxify the sand through their roots, while simultaneously creating a barrier to stop it from blowing across the neighbouring communities. It’s a simple solution but difficult to implement because, to do so, they really need the collaboration of the government and the support of the gold mines.  

Dhlamini works tirelessly, campaigning to raise awareness about the issues in Snake Park, engaging authorities and keeping the voices of the community in the minds of the people in power. It’s not just a matter of justice, it’s a labour of love for a community where she doesn’t even live. 

Dhlamini has started a co-op called Bambanani (hold each other), with members of the Snake Park community. Together they are looking for ways to source bamboo seeds and a tractor so they can get planting.  

Working alongside geologists to monitor the chemical density in the land, her dream is to blanket the area in bamboo so that not only will it clean the soil and stop the dust from blowing across the townships below, but it will also provide a building resource for the residents.  

She hopes that Snake Park will become a bamboo city, a tourist attraction and an example of rehabilitation. It’s a big dream, but if she succeeds, her hard work could provide clean air and water for generations to come.

RESOURCES

📖 Jagersfontein: From the sky?

On 11 September 2022, a diamond mine waste storage facility, known as a tailings dam, failed in the town of Jagersfontein in the Free State province of South Africa. In the failure, one person was killed and multiple homes destroyed. Tailings are the finely ground leftovers that remain after valuable metals are removed from rock ore. Tailings are generally transported jointly with water and deposited in a tailings dam for storage.

Now, six months later in 2023, civil engineers at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, have used public satellite and aerial imagery in a study to investigate the history of the Jagersfontein dam. 

Satellite images show what went wrong
Sources of public satellite images used in the study included Google Earth Pro and the Sentinel-2 and Landsat 8 satellite missions. Additionally, some of the immediate consequences of the failure were assessed using commercial satellite images.

Dr Luis Torres-Cruz and Mr Christopher O’Donovan in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wits authored the paper, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports on 5 April 2023.

The Bench Marks Foundation will be launching its own report: Jagersfontein, one year later.

📖 REPORT ON SLAPPs: Record number of abusive SLAPP lawsuits filed in Europe in 2022

The number of abusive lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders increased to a record 161 in 2022, according to a new report published Wednesday by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE).

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are abusive lawsuits against media companies, journalists, NGOs or human rights defenders aimed at intimidating and silencing them on issues of public interest. 

Their use has been increasing steadily over the past decade in Europe and the rest of the world, undermining free speech and democracy.

Last year, an estimated 161 such lawsuits were filed, according to the report, busting the previous yearly record of 146 set in 2020. 

CASE, in partnership with legal experts and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, analysed a total of 820 litigations, but said that the true number of SLAPPs is likely to be much higher.

In Croatia alone, for example, over 245 new lawsuits against journalists were launched in 2022, but CASE was unable to independently verify which were SLAPPs.

The most likely targets of a SLAPP are journalists, media outlets, editors, activists and NGOs, with legal action most commonly launched against individuals. Individual journalists were the targets of 30% of the cases studied. Other likely defendants include lawyers, academics, politicians, authors and publishers.

SLAPPs are commonly launched by those in positions of power such as businesses (39.9%), state-owned entities (26.8%) and politicians (25%), and mostly target actions or publications on corruption, government, business and environmental issues. 

Defamation is the most common legal basis, accounting for 72% of the lawsuits studied in the report.

The SLAPPs analysed also included exorbitant demands in value of damages, with the highest totalling some €17.6 million. The median value of damages claimed was €15,150, and the average €360,659. In 8.3% of the cases in 2022, defendants faced criminal repercussions, such as incarceration.

According to CASE, 2022 saw a significant number of SLAPPs lodged in Malta, France, Croatia, Greece, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Georgia. 

Malta had the highest number of SLAPPs per capita, with 19.93 cases per 100,000 people, although the data was highly influenced by multiple cases brought by the Maltese government against the Maltese online investigative portal The Shift News.

The issue is of high importance in Malta, where journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia faced 43 civil and five criminal lawsuits at the time of her murder in 2017.

Daphne’s Law

The European Commission is trying to restrict the use of these lawsuits and in April put forward proposals for an anti-SLAPP Directive, known as Daphne’s Law, in honour of Caruana Galizia. 

It would enable judges to swiftly dismiss unfounded lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders, and establish safeguards – such as compensation for damages and dissuasive penalties – for launching abusive lawsuits. 

It would also ensure uniform legal protection across member states, where current laws on SLAPPs vary widely.

The Directive received the backing of the European Parliament’s JURI Committee in June, and was approved in plenary in July.

But there are fears European member states, which form the Council of the EU, will attempt to water down the Directive’s ambitions to safeguard journalists and media freedom during trilogue negotiations.

When member states agreed on their negotiating positions in June, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders expressed his regret concerning “the weakening of the remedies against abusive court proceedings, in particular the deletion of the provision on compensation of damage and the weakening of the provision on award of costs.”

Writing in Euronews in last month, Emma Bergmans of Free Press Unlimited and Corinne Vella of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation stated that “ironically, the Council’s version of Daphne’s Law would not have protected Daphne herself from the SLAPPs she was facing.”

One of the likely sticking points in upcoming negotiations includes the definition of ‘cross-border’ SLAPPs, where the complainant and the defendant reside in different member states. According to the CASE report, these account for just under one in ten SLAPPs.

By Mared Gwyn Jones
Published on 23/08/2023

📖 Harmful Impacts of Mining: when extraction harms people, environments and economies is an exciting read filled with recommendations.

The main objective of the RMI Reports is to encourage continuous improvement in responsible mining with the aim that mining benefits the economies, improves the lives of peoples and respects the environments of producing countries, while also benefiting companies in a fair and viable way. In order to encourage continuous improvement industry-wide, the digital RMI Report includes a set of learning tools that can be used by any mining company to inform its ESG efforts (see Annex for an introduction to these learning tools). 

In addition, the findings of the RMI assessments over the last six years have shown the key measures that companies can take to significantly improve their ability to meet society expectations. These measures are outlined here. Properly resource Sustainability departments If company leadership is serious about ESG and Sustainability, these departments need to be provided with the finances, people, agency and respect required to ensure effective management of ESG issues. In addition, companies can bring Sustainability into the C-suite for stronger governance, accountability and signalling. 

Assign high-level responsibility for ESG performance Companies can show their commitment to responsible practices by designating specific Board members and senior executives as responsible and accountable for the companies’ ESG performance. Remuneration of senior managers can integrate ESG criteria, which are publicly disclosed. Avoid harmful impacts Companies can avoid harmful impacts by ensuring that ESG risk management systems are implemented consistently across all operations and are addressing all salient risks relevant to specific contexts and jurisdictions. 

See full set of recommendations in the report on Harmful Impacts of Mining. Align with the SDGs Companies can apply SDG-supportive practices consistently across their operations, learning from the good practices of their peers and amplifying good examples from within their own portfolios. 

Companies can avoid the risk of perceived SDG-washing by proactively reporting data on any negative impacts and explanations of mitigation measures, in addition to sharing positive contributions and success stories. See full set of recommendations in report on Mining and the SDGs. 

Show, don’t just tell Companies can publicly disclose full versions of their corporate commitments, management systems, guidelines, and reports of initiatives such as reviews or gap analyses on specific ESG issues, without risking release of sensitive information. Making these documents available, rather than just mentioning their existence, enables such corporate efforts to be recognised and allows other companies to learn from these models. Track mine site action By tracking the extent to which corporate systems (guidelines, requirements, management standards, etc,) are being implemented across all mine sites, companies can more readily identify any gaps to be addressed. Normalise social impact assessments Companies can extend beyond the regulatory requirements for impact assessment to regularly check for any adverse impacts of their operations on, for example, the health of affected communities and the general well-being of both men and women in affected communities as well as specific stakeholder groups (such as youth, children, persons with disabilities). Knowing of any adverse impacts will enable companies to develop appropriate mitigation strategies. Take systematic action on gender To meet society expectations on gender equality, companies can develop a strategic approach that covers mining-related issues especially pertinent to women both in the workplace and in affected communities. Set targets and share progress Companies can show leadership and ensure more robust performance tracking by systematically setting targets for their management of each ESG issue. 

Publicly reporting their progress against these targets on a regular basis demonstrates an open and trustworthy approach towards ESG management. 

Provide mine-site-disaggregated data Rather than aggregating ESG data from their operations to show only company-wide statistics in their public reporting, companies can more usefully provide the mine-site-specific data to meet the needs of stakeholders including affected communities, workers, investors and others interested in site-level risks and performances. 

Follow open data principles To make their public reporting more meaningful and useful, companies can align their disclosures with the open data principles. This includes, for example, showing several years’ data in the same document to enable comparisons over time, providing data as absolute numbers rather than relative rates, providing contextual information alongside the data (such as highlighting where and when pollutant levels exceeded regulatory limits), and making data as up-to-date as possible. Use the RMI Framework Companies can make use of the RMI Framework as a guide for strengthening their ESG strategies. The Framework offers practical guidance on the responsible measures companies can take, and the kinds of evidence that companies can provide to demonstrate responsible practices.

📖 Cobalt Red 

In 2020, South Africa produced 1 800 metric tonnes of cobalt, which is only a fraction of the total annual global cobalt mine production of roughly 140 000 metric tonnes. Staying in Africa, cobalt is currently being mined in the DRC, Madagascar, Morocco, Zambia and Zimbabwe. So, if you are based in Southern Africa or the continent, this book is vital to have on your shelf, after reading it. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces nearly three-quarters of the world’s cobalt, an essential component in rechargeable batteries powering laptops, smartphones and electric vehicles. But those who dig up the valuable mineral often work in horrific and dangerous conditions, says Siddharth Kara, an international expert on modern-day slavery and author of Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives. He writes that “There are many episodes in the history of the Congo that are bloodier than what is happening in the mining sector today, but none of these episodes ever involved so much suffering for so much profit linked so indispensably to the lives of billions of people around the world.”

In an in-depth interview on Democracy Now, the author says the major technology companies that rely on this cobalt from DRC to make their products are turning a blind eye to the human toll and falsely claiming their supply chains are free from abuse, including widespread child labour. “The public health catastrophe on top of the human rights violence on top of the environmental destruction is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the modern context,” says Kara. “The fact that it is linked to companies worth trillions and that our lives depend on this enormous violence has to be dealt with.”

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.

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