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15th June 2024

October 2023

· JUST IN · 

Dear comrade, this period since we last met, saw two major civil society conferences on mining and extractivism. Whilst the final reports and declarations are still being finalised, they underlined the right to resist injustices and, whilst CSOs are weakened, there are pockets of good work and ongoing struggles. The right to say No to mining and Yes to forms of livelihoods that do not destroy our sense of being, the ability to reproduce life itself was a consensus.

The focus on water takes us to many places from Canada, Brazil, Chile as well as to the Cape – and they all tell the story of how water and land define who we are as people. Resisting corporate encroachment on these principles is a fight worth having. It also tells the story of the universalism of our struggles.

To resist also means to think – differently, if need be -, hence the feature on why we take press freedom seriously and why we must defend the SABC by removing legislation that will undermine its independence. Sign this petition. Our story on the right to participate without threats to our democracy is highlighted in the MACUA/WAMUA/CALS appeal.

Leisure time and time for debate is critical at all times. The Jozi Book Fair turns 15 years old. This teenager has over the years sought to inculcate the joy and discipline of reading and critical reflections and discussions about the word and the world we inhabit. As the organisers say the “JBF’s overall purpose is “create a strong reading and writing culture in all South Africa’s languages”. see you there on the 10 -12 November 2023.

Read, pass on and think about how we can make our world more joyous…

· COMMENT ·

THE past month all the world has been focused on only one story: Gaza. It has been described before this current wave of death and destruction as the worlds largest open air prison. A UN relief worker commenting on the ongoing death and destruction said it was “hell on earth”. It is evident that the leaders of the Global North Powers, led by the USA, have given the state of Israel a free hand with armaments to perpetrate these gross violations of human rights with exceptional impunity. The White House said that a ceasefire in Gaza is not ‘the right answer right now’. 

It appears that “their ” humanity – read: the demands of the military industrial complex – does not permit them to heed the call of the world’s peoples for a CEASEFIRE NOW. That is how low humanity has sunken, but we know that history will judge them harshly.

As we write, the bombings and the killings in Gaza have not stopped as hospitals and journalists are fair game… We all recall how many in the West clamoured for us to support the suffering Ukrainian children but today they are silent. Our empathy and solidarity cannot be conditional. It must be universal.

According to our sister organisation Save the Children, the number of children reported killed in Gaza in just three weeks has surpassed the annual number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones since 2019. Since October 7, more than 3,257 children have been reported killed, including at least 3,195 in Gaza, 33 in the West Bank, and 29 in Israel, report the Ministries of Health in Gaza and Israel respectively. 

Children make up more than 40% of the 7,703 people killed in Gaza, and more than a third of all fatalities across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. With a further 1,000 children reported missing in Gaza, assumed buried under the rubble, the death toll is likely much higher. On Friday, Israeli forces announced “expanded ground operations” in the Gaza Strip, with Save the Children warning it will bring more deaths, injuries and distress while calling for an immediate ceasefire.

In addition, the South African government noted that “all of these children killed since 07 October are non-combatants and those responsible for their deaths must be held accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and in the case of the scale of deaths in Gaza and increasingly in the West Bank, the crime of genocide must also be investigated. The scale of deaths in Gaza are a direct result of the unlawful actions by Israel on the peoples of Gaza. As South Africa and the majority of countries stated at the United Nations General Assembly on 27 October 2023, as part of the debate on a resolution where more than two-thirds of the General Assembly responded positively to a call for an immediate ceasefire, under the laws of occupation which forms part of the law of armed conflict, Israel does not have the ‘right to defend itself’ using military means as Israel is an occupying power. This is a fact, not an allegation. It has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice. As the occupying power, Israel can use tools applicable to the rule of law, including policing powers to deal with criminal actions.

An occupying state cannot exercise control over territory it occupies and simultaneously militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is “foreign” and poses an exogenous national security threat. The notion of Israel’s right to defend itself through military means has been used erroneously by some, and deliberately by others to justify the unlawful use of force by Israel on people of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank..

As a progressive South African Civil Society Organisation, the Bench Marks Foundation cannot remain idle when these injustices abound. This bulletin carries both the resolution taken by the Bench Marks Foundation Conference and the resolution we signed unto in Indonesia, where we joined the Thematic Social Forum on Mining and the Extractive Economy. The duplicity of the Global North LEADERS in not mourning and stopping the war against the Palestinians have not gone unchecked by the world’s citizens. When Ukraine was under fire, children and human lives mattered.

ARTICLES

THE BENCH MARKS FOUNDATION CONFERENCE

Here we will reproduce, over the next few months, the talking points or takeaways from our three guest speakers: Solly Mapaila, Rachmi Hertanti and Yao Graham.

We start with the General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) Solly Mapaila.

Critical raw materials for whom and at what cost? Statement at the Bench-Marks Foundation Conference in Johannesburg on 10 October 2023
By Solly Mapaila, SACP General Secretary

The capitalist mode of production is based on inequality and the exploitation of the working-class, nature, and natural resources. Its results include rapacious destruction of the environment, chasing riches and profits with no regard to life. Capitalist accumulation and consequences have become more dangerous.

The greedy capitalist appropriators have monopolised trillions, either in hoards or in circulation as capital. Conservative estimates suggest at least 103 trillion in US dollars. The United States-led imperialist regimes of Europe and North America gain a lot via taxation from the surplus resources expatriated by their capitalist bosses from exploiting labour and resources across the world.

The United States-led imperialist regimes unleash the resources to provoke and bankroll wars, as they did in Ukraine, in pursuit of totalitarian control of wealth in every part of the wealth. Yet both the resources appropriated by the bourgeoisie and unleashed from tax revenue by their states to make imperialist wars are needed to eradicate mass poverty and stop global warming.

Critical raw materials for whom and at what cost?
As we grapple with the way forward, we should pay attention to the relationship between the extraction of critical raw materials and the development of more technologically advanced instruments of production and products produced as commodities. The digital economy has arisen in this process. It is crucial to reclaim it from capitalist control, as we should do with the entire economy, to serve the needs of people, emancipate the workers from economic exploitation, lift the poor out of poverty and stop global warming.

Continue reading

Bench Marks Foundation on Palestine and for Just Peace


The reporting of Al Jazeera generally is more informative of the war on Gaza [See in particular What’s been the impact of Western policy on Palestine & Israel?] which attempted to provide background to the complex moral and justice issues affecting victims of war, occupation and colonial rule.

The Bench Marks Foundation took place during the full scale throttling of Palestinians in Gaza. Guest speaker Solly Mapaila from the SACP called on the conference to make its voice heard on the matter as silence and fear of speaking out was complicity. This call dovetailed with the Foundation’s own programmatic work and interests around mining and extractivism in Africa and the wider world.

More specifically, it followed the resolution of the Anglican Church that Israel is an apartheid state at the end of September 2023. In addition, their most recent statement and appeal to assist Palestinians after the “fresh outbreak of violence in the holy land.” The Anglican Church is a member of the SACC and the Bench Marks Foundation was formed with the assistance and association with the church.

The chairperson of the Board Zithulele Cindi read the following Bench Marks Foundation Annual Conference resolution 2023 entitled:

Of violence and racism in GAZA (2023).  

This annual conference of the Bench Marks Foundation comprising church leaders, mining affected communities and activists meeting on 10 and 11 October, 2023 to deliberate on the critical minerals for the transition to green energy was disturbed and revolted by subsequent reports reaching us about the latest developments in Palestine (GAZA).

A disturbing picture from latest media reports was emerging showing retaliatory attacks from both the Israeli Defence Force and the armed Hamas militia leading to mayhem and destruction. These wanton attacks and destruction of homes, schools and other populated settlements need to come to an end. No amount of sabre-rattling from the USA and its allies in the EU and predictably, NATO will bring about peace in the region.

It is within this context that the call was made to us to strengthen our solidarity with the Palestinian people in their just struggle for freedom and national self-determination. As a faith-based organisation, working with the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC), WE are proud to continue working alongside leaders of all the faiths to ensure a just peace in the holy lands.

Further, noting, the Israeli state’s trade in (blood) diamonds as well as their theft of the water supplies denies Palestinians a fair share of particularly drinkable water. This theft and iniquitous use of water supplies as it denies the Palestine people access thereto is also a denial of quality life. This practice sadly resonates with experiences in the extractive industries as documented and highlighted during the course of this conference.

Further submitting that it is important to be aware of the violence meted out by the Israeli regime on GAZA -a de facto landlocked strip of enclave and modern-day concentration camp-where bombing of buildings, workplaces and houses has resulted in the loss of lives that cannot be justified under international laws. Ordering the complete siege of the Gaza strip – as per the injunction of Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defence Minister- with no food, no fuel, no electricity with everything closed is iniquitous and inhumane and indefensible irrespective of the reasons that called for or led to the “retaliation”.

Noting further that Since the blockade of Gaza Strip in 2006 the people of Palestine have been engaged in continuous struggles to resist their subjugation and oppression. International law demands protection of all citizens and the failure to call out the Israeli state’s violation of such prior to the Hamas attacks is opportunist as it is racist. Not surprisingly, the USA, the EU and other Western governments have lined up with the powerful against the weak and defenceless. Instead of seeking a sustainable and just peaceful solution, they vowed to continue policies and practices of attrition, vengeance and violence.

Israel continues to maintain exclusive control of Gaza’s airspace and the territorial waters, just as it has since it occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967. This blockade is now in its 17th year, and the world powers have not spoken out against it. It is undeniable that the Israelis have effectively turned Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison. With over 2 million people living in a 45 square kilometres space, Gaza is regarded as the most densely populated place in the world.

THEREFORE RESOLVE

  1. To call for an immediate end to all hostilities and the siege of GAZA.
  2. To call for an end to the blockade of GAZA – an illegal act not justified under international laws.
  3. To express our empathy with the people of Palestine and those in Gaza in particular. We have lived for decades under Apartheid tyranny and oppression and we stand with you. When people live under occupation, tyranny and oppression we recognise your right and obligation to resist.
  4. To call on the world and various elite mouthpieces to end duplicity when reporting on the struggles of Palestinians and call on you to affirm a commitment to justice and equality for all.
  5. To call for an end to structural violence represented by the annexation and occupation of the Palestine territory by the Israeli state as well as the reiteration of the Palestinians’ right to return, a right which is only available to Jewish people, whether they were born in Palestine or not.

See the chairperson of the board of the Bench Marks Foundation presenting the resolution here.

Statement in Support of Palestinian Decolonial Struggle
Read the statement we signed unto at the Thematic Social forum on Mining and the Extractive Economy. It was drafted and sponsored by the movement Yes to LIfe, No to Mining.

Press Freedom: IS THE MEDIA FREE FOR ALL?

As members of the People’s Media Consortium, the Bench Marks Foundation has been very active in protecting and deepening the rights to free speech or, as we prefer to call it, the right to communicate.

We celebrated media freedom on the SABC News, and participated in the online public event The Media: Free for All?

Media house Salaamedia took up the issue of press freedom focusing on the question of “Media censorship in light of the Israel-Palestine war”  

Following the webinar and wider consultations within their network, the SOS Coalition put out the following petition.

SIGN OUR PETITION!

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition is a non-profit, civil society coalition established in 2008. We advocate, lobby and campaign for good and effective public service media and for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to be an effective public broadcaster whose content serves the public interest. 
 
Our goal is to promote free universal access to quality local public service content to deepen the values and principles of our constitutional democracy. 

Help us by calling on the government to withdraw the flawed SABC Bill. The SABC Bill poses a threat to the SABC’s existence and to our democracy. Instead of cultivating the public broadcaster to ensure it is more sustainable and effective in achieving its objectives, if the Bill is passed in its current state it will jeopardise the SABC’s independence and prevent citizens from getting impartial, credible, and quality news and information. 

Sign our petition here
Follow us on social media: @soscoalition

Photo: Courtesy IOL. Displaced Sporong Community members walking though the field where only two of their graves remain

Grave Matters: The disruption of land, communities, households and graves, destroys the social relations of production and reproduction

With land dispossession as a result of colonialism and mining, the ancestral graves of black Africans have been desecrated and many have been left unmarked.

The establishment of new mines on customary land represents the disruption of such rural communities and their way of life. The impact is always one of shock and awe in the sense to which Naomi Klein refers.

Recently the issue of forced relocations once more cropped up in the news in relation to forced relocations taking place in Mpumalanga to make way for coal mines. The Foundation was asked to comment on these matters on Newzoom Africa.  

In these communities, the pre-mining ‘peasant’ or self-sustaining household produced their own means of livelihood. It did so in a communal manner and not alone- in isolation from others. Unlike the urban nuclear household of the market economy at the centre of liberal economics, the reproduction of peasant communities entails social rather than individual reproduction. Choices in this context are not calculated by the “individual” of liberal economics, but by the household in the context of an extended family. 

This is not to say that these villagers were in the pre-mining years unaware of, and did not engage with, the wider economy. They did, but had more room to mediate that engagement and could to some extent determine its terms and conditions since there was a greater degree of flexibility and choice. The village household, while being a complex of collective productive activities with clear role definitions, was part of a wider complex of social activities. The household was the core unit of economic production and self-sustainability; as a interviewee put it in a study produced by Bench Marks in a similar situation, “before we were relocated, we worked with our own hands and we were dependent on no one, we had our livestock and we ploughed our land.”

The household, in the customary context, is also the core unit of consumption of that which is produced. While many people engage in migrant labour in Johannesburg, this is to supplement household income and to meet the pressures put on the household by the state and the market. However, in the pre-mining context, the villagers never suffer the poverty of modern urbanisation. As another respondent put it, “we were not rich, but we never went hungry.” However, the household is not only an economic unit central to production and consumption, it is also central to all social purposes, being a unit of residence, marriage, and kinship relations, as well as a unit for venerating the ancestors, the earth spirits and the Supreme Being. The household is central in the pre-mining context and it was founded on access to the land. Most customary households have room for more than one livestock enclosure (kraal), and all families have access to land for cultivation. Family rituals such as weddings, funerals and age-defined ceremonies and rituals, including burials, take place on the land, close to the homestead. The land defines the household and the community. 

Depriving such communities of their “ancestral lands” is to deprive them from the narrative of their history, from their ‘title-deeds’ which are the graves of their ancestors, and write them out of history. The land is the foundation of the household, the family, the extended family and ultimately the world view of the community, and, without it, everything falls apart. As Worseley put it, “It is, literally, a sacred trust, for it [the land] has to be handed on to the next generation, in good heart, to provide for their subsistence as it was handed to this generation from generations untold” (Worseley, 1984, p. 73). The current generation does not merely occupy and manage the land, sustaining themselves from it, but their link to it traces back to the common ancestor, to the Supreme Being, from the founding ancestor through the current generation, to the unborn and the future.

The household is, therefore, the trans-generational manager of the land, and the household is obliged to ensure security of tenure, reduction of risk, sustain the family unit and the extended family dependent on that land and ensure that it is transferred to the next generation in good stead. These are the principal preoccupations of the current generation, not the preoccupation of profit as is the preoccupation of the household in the market economy. The land was thus essential to the survival of every member of the community. Land, therefore, had to be kept and passed down to the next generation in good condition. It could not be sold or alienated to anyone outside the community. Land was commonly divided in accordance with the changing composition of the extended family. Anyone who breaks this chain jeopardises the future of generations to come.

Under pressure from mining companies and the government, the communities that are relocated result in a  break in the chain that connects them with their past and their ancestors. This jeopardises the future of their children. Depriving relocated communities of land is to condemn the current generation to despondency and powerlessness. In such cases it also has an impact on individual families in the community. Children in families struggle to identify with their parents, after the community is relocated from their original self-sustaining village to the grid pattern township-style settlement mining companies build for them. The parents are no longer able to sustain their children; they have lost cattle, agricultural land, grazing land and access to water. They lose connection with the land and with their ancestors, the link between past, present and future is broken.

By David van Wyk

WATER FEATURE

Here we feature four stories / resources for mining affected communities, faith leaders and activists. The first is from the Safe Water Drinking Foundation, the second focuses on one of our participants at the Bench Marks Foundation Annual Conference, the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC), who tell their story of colonial dispossession through the flows and meanderings of the Liesbeek River.

Photo: Amount of Copper Removed Compared to Amount of Waste Material that Must Also be Removed

Water has been called mining’s most common casualty
For every tonne of copper extracted 99 tonnes of waste material must also be removed

Mining and Water Pollution by the Safe Drinking Water Foundation is an invaluable resource. Whilst prepared for North America one can easily deduce how it resonates with our reality. The study points out that the Canadian mineral industry generates “one million tonnes of waste rock and 950,000 tonnes of tailings per day, totaling 650 million tonnes of waste per year”.

Afterwards society is left with the waste rock, which often contains “acid-generating sulphides, heavy metals, and other contaminants, is usually stored above ground in large free-draining piles. This waste rock and the exposed bedrock walls from which it is excavated are the source of most of the metals pollution caused by mining in British Columbia. In other regions of North America tailings also represent a major source of heavy metals contamination of waterways”. The study then delves into the waste and the pollution impacts concluding that “Mining affects fresh water through heavy use of water in processing ore, and through water pollution from discharged mine effluent and seepage from tailings and waste rock impoundments. Increasingly, human activities such as mining threaten the water sources on which we all depend. Water has been called “mining’s most common casualty” (James Lyon, interview, Mineral Policy Center, Washington DC). There is growing awareness of the environmental legacy of mining activities that have been undertaken with little concern for the environment. The price we have paid for our everyday use of minerals has sometimes been very high. Mining by its nature consumes, diverts and can seriously pollute water resources.” 

Under the heading TYPES OF WATER POLLUTION FROM MINING, the authors list four main types of mining impacts on water quality which is explained in some detail but which I will only list here thus:

1. Acid Mine Drainage
2. Heavy Metal Contamination & Leaching
3. Processing Chemicals Pollution
4. Erosion and Sedimentation

There is an interesting section dealing with LESSONS FROM THE PAST as well as a section entitled WHAT CAN BE DONE? What is to be Done? has a number of recommendations that includes changes in law, technologies and social awareness / activism as well as effective regulation and monitoring. To end, I leave you with this quote:“Once a mine is in operation water protection must remain the highest goal of the company, even if it means reduced mineral productivity. Adopting this common-sense ethic is the only way we can ensure that the golden dreams of mining do not turn into the nightmare of poisoned streams.” (Carlos De Rosa & James Lyon, Golden Dreams, Poisoned Streams. Mineral Policy Center, Washington DC, 1997).

To access more information on these and other educational activities, as well as additional fact sheets, visit the Safe Drinking Water Foundation website at www.safewater.org.

Photo: Construction works at the site of the proposed Amazon regional headquarters development beyond the Liesbeek River in Cape Town, South Africa | BLOOMBERG

How one river highlights South Africa’s land inequality (extract)
Kim Harrisberg

“This river is our connection to our history and the environment,” said Tauriq Jenkins, of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC), one of the most vocal opponents.

“Now history is repeating itself,” he said, standing on a small hill looking onto the site, previously a golf course, where construction workers had begun work on the project.

Heritage, justice and environment
The 15-hectare River Club development site is where the Khoi and San peoples fought off a Portuguese attack in 1510.After the Dutch defeated the Khoi in 1659, they brought in slaves from countries including Malaysia, Madagascar and India to farm the land.  

Upstream from the Amazon site, the descendants of some of those enslaved people have been locked in their own legal battles after they were forcibly removed from the 28-hectare Protea Village land at the foot of Table Mountain in the 1960s.”Our heritage is rooted in this entire area,” said Barry Ellman, descendant of the original Protea Village community and chairperson of the Protea Village Communal Property Association.

The evicted families won the right to 12-hectares in 2006, but have not been able to begin development due to legal challenges, initially from disgruntled residents of a wealthy neighboring suburb until 2011, then from a local environmental group, Friends of the Liesbeek (FOL), which argued development would harm the river.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal application in May made by local civil society groups trying to stop construction downstream at the 4.6 billion rand ($243 million) River Club site set to house Amazon Africa.

Jenkins said a rival Khoi group had backed the project due to what he called an orchestrated attempt by Amazon’s local partners to divide Indigenous groups that included a legal challenge to his leadership of GKKITC.

The trust developing the site responded that “any suggestion of impropriety is categorically denied,” and said Jenkins did not represent the views of all of the GKKITC. The city of Cape Town welcomed the court decision allowing the building to go ahead and said it would bring enormous “heritage, environmental, economic, infrastructural and other benefits to Cape Town and its residents.”

The city said the development would bring more than “5,000 construction jobs and approximately 19,000 employment opportunities.”But Jenkins said he believed those numbers were inflated and said he and other GKKITC members would appeal.

“Our heritage is not for sale,” he said.

Read more: How one river highlights South Africa’s land inequality – The Japan Times

Photo by Elza Fiúza/ABr: Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB)

A Just Transition?

How are communities putting visions of Just Transition into practice today? Around the world, different communities are exploring and developing their own visions of Just Transition

Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB)
The Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB, for its Portuguese acronym) was born as a social movement to resist the construction of large-scale hydroelectric dams in Brazil, displacing families and communities. Until the 1990s this struggle targeted state-owned enterprises and focused on individual problems. However, with neoliberalism advancing we felt the need to reorganise ourselves as a national movement, to build a different energy model: a people’s energy system in which water and energy would be controlled publicly and communally, with the goal of wealth redistribution. We developed a critical analysis of the inequalities created by the energy model in Brazil, which had created a high concentration of wealth in the hands of the international financial system. We confronted this model with the need for an energy transition. Therefore, we started from the need to transform the whole energy system, not just the sources of energy. If we do not, as a society, discuss the energy policy that organises and structures electricity production, renewable technologies (like hydro-electric) will not bring about a change to the unfair structures that sustain the model. In this way, even if solar and wind energy are considered clean energies, they do not automatically promise equitable access to energy, or just distribution of wealth. Thus, we focus on the main questions: Energy for what? And for whom?

The case of Brazil illustrates how an energy system based on private control, dominated by financial capital and institutions captured by and for capital, does not serve people. Energy companies in Brazil adopted a tariff system that privileged the most privileged and punished the population with absurdly high prices. While a change in energy sources is important, it is not sufficient for a Just Transition. Instead, an energy transition necessarily means overcoming the market model, profoundly transforming society and capitalism. The second key element in our energy transition project is strengthening and developing the historical subjects who can carry it forward. Popular participation and peoples’ democratic power is vital to the energy transformation. We worked on two fronts to develop this. At the Latin American level, to resist the advancing extractivism and the construction of new dams we built the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAR, from its acronym in Spanish), together with other movements. After a long process, we have an overview of the architecture of the energy system in Latin America, allowing us to build more coordinated and effective actions against large projects and companies. In Brazil, together with workers from oil, electricity, cities, education and water sectors, we also built the Worker and Peasant Platform on Energy and Water (POCAE, for its Portuguese acronym) so we can build a collective struggle with the whole population. 

At the heart of this process, we are working on a peoples’ energy project, testing our models of transition. In the first ten years of collective work, we have promoted several collective struggles: for energy sovereignty, against privatisation, against increases and high prices, and for the just use of the wealth generated in the energy sector. We believe that acting effectively to drive an energy transition requires us to understand and address structural, policy, and economic factors. But we also work to change energy sources directly, for example through our proposal for decentralised power generation through the installation of solar panels under the lake created by a hydroelectric plant in the Sertão Mineiro region, the Project Vereda Sol e Lares. 

In this project, 1200 families affected by the dam are building their own solar energy production in a cooperative way and will supply themselves with energy, which they do not have access to today. They will also be able to increase their From Crisis to Transformation: What is Just Transition? | 47 income by selling excess energy to the integrated network. In this way, we will not create new environmental impacts, because we will take advantage of the existing lake and distribute energy to those who need it. The expectation is to be able to replicate and stimulate community energy production, generating more autonomy for families and the movement, to continue subsidising the struggles for systemic transformation.

From Crisis to Transformation: What is Just Transition? is a TNI primer that seeks to why it is imperative to orient ourselves and our social movements towards a Just Transition and how we can consciously and deliberately move away from the dysfunctional and destructive systems that are leading us towards extinction. How can we advance towards new systems of social relations that will help us to survive and overcome the climate crisis and to reverse the planet’s sixth mass extinction?

Photo by Darko Lagunas: Roadblock with residual waste from the Albemarle lithium mine

‘Water predators’: the industry behind ‘green’ energy
Transition minerals from the world’s most arid ecosystem

Climate ambitions do not take into account the irreversible consequences of mining. In northern Chile, an ancient ecosystem and a 12,000 year-old culture are being sacrificed. Are climate policies destroying precisely what they could fix? This article examines the impact of lithium mining on the ecosystem and its inhabitant communities in the Atacama desert in Chile. A first-person perspective by Darko Lagunas, the article demonstrates the urgent need for those communities who are the prime rights-holders to be genuinely front and center in any movement building around these impacts.

[Extract]

This year, the government of President Gabriel Boric announced two important measures. The nationalization of Chilean lithium and a tightening of environmental requirements for lithium mining. With the “National Lithium Strategy” proposed by Boric, he wants to “increase Chilean wealth”. Not a silly plan. SQM made nearly four billion in profits in 2022 alone. The nationalization of lithium could provide a financial boost to the country’s insufficient health care, education, housing and other public services. Now all that remains is implementation.

Which was something that already backfired during the announcement of the plans. Indeed, there was talk of the importance of coordinating with local communities, but there was no dialogue whatsoever with the Lickanantay communities or the CPA on the government’s plans. The ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous Peoples, ratified by Chile, stipulates that these peoples must be consulted beforehand when measures are taken that may directly affect them. This did not happen. Gently put, an uncomfortable start. 

Moreover, critics argue that the plans take a reductionist view of ecosystems in northern Chile, as the plans categorize seventy percent of salt lakes as “replaceable”. Only thirty percent will be protected. This opens the door for more sacrifice zones in the area for the sake of economic progress in Chile, without involving the local communities.

As for environmental demands. In March this year, Boric announced that Chile does not want more evaporation ponds. The preferred option is more sustainable and less water-intensive forms of lithium extraction, such as “direct lithium extraction methods” (DLE). I meet with Henk van Alphen to discuss the technology; he is CEO of the Canadian mining company Wealth Minerals Ltd. which is well into the development of DLE. ‘With this technology, we pump back almost all the water, without lithium,’ he says. ‘That way we consume only ten litres of water per second, compared to the two thousand litres of water SQM consumes per second in evaporation ponds.’

Read the full article here.

THE MEET - UP

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

In this feature, we again highlight our relationship through the MPRDA COALITION with CALS, WAMUA and MACUA. We signed unto the letter of concern to THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON MINERAL RESOURCES AND ENERGY

Dear Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Natural Resources and Energy,
RE: PUBLIC HEARINGS ON THE ELECTRICITY REGULATION AMENDMENT BILL

We are writing to address a matter of utmost importance regarding the short time frame given to communities and the public at large to adequately comment on the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill. This issue has come to our attention, and it is our duty as the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (“CALS”) and Mining Affected Communities United in Action and Women Affected by Mining United in Action (“MACUA and WAMUA”) to ensure that all interested persons are given an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the legislative process.  

CALS is a law clinic registered with the Legal Practice Council and based at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Law. CALS was established in 1978 and has been one of the leading human rights research, advocacy, and strategic impact litigation organisations in South Africa. It operates through five (5) programmes, namely, Business and Human Rights, Environmental Justice, Gender Justice, Home, Land and Rural Democracy, and Civil and Political Justice Programme.
     
MACUA and WAMUA’s core mission is to create a transformative platform that fosters unity and solidarity among community members, artisanal miners, and mine workers. Their objective is to establish a grassroots democracy that prioritises people’s needs over profit-driven interests. Building on a legacy of resistance against colonialism and apartheid, MACUA and WAMUA champions the fundamental principle that no authority is greater than the will of the people. They adamantly insist that any decisions or actions that affect their communities must involve the direct and meaningful participation of the affected individuals.
     
MACUA and WAMUA, a vital stakeholder in the ongoing legislative discussions surrounding the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill (“Bill”) has attempted to participate in the process and in so doing has witnessed a process designed to exclude not only MACUA and WAMUA. This exclusion is not only a significant breach of democratic principles but also a flagrant abuse of the public participation process enshrined in our Constitution. MACUA and WAMUA wrote a letter to Parliament on 21 September 2023, addressing some of their concerns in relation to the public participation process. We attach the letter hereto, marked “CR1”.
     
Public participation in the legislative process is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. It ensures that the voices of all stakeholders, especially those directly affected by proposed legislation, are heard and considered. MACUA and WAMUA represents the interests and concerns of mining-affected communities who often bear the brunt of energy and mining-related policies. Denying them a fair and equitable platform to engage in the legislative process is not only unjust but also detrimental to the overall quality of the legislation in question.

Moreover, we are concerned that Parliament has been failing in its duty to provide a conducive and consistent environment for public participation. Announcements regarding venues have been announced at short notice and frequently altered at the last minute, causing confusion and, in some cases, leaving community members stranded at empty halls. To date the schedule of hearings for October and November, which was approved at a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on 21st of September 2023, has not yet been released to the public, making it difficult for the public to plan their attendance or participation. This lack of logistical organisation not only discourages public participation but also undermines the credibility of the legislative process.
     
As you may be aware, the Constitutional Court recently handed down a judgement in Mogale and Others v the Speaker of the National Assembly and Others (CCT 73/22) [2023] ZACC 14 (Mogale), which held that the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, together with the provincial legislatures, failed to fulfil their constitutional mandate to reasonably facilitate public participation in the passing of the Traditional Khoi-San Leadership Act 3 of 2019. This ruling was grounded in the fact that there were deficiencies that prevented adequate preparation for the hearings, including the fact that the hearings were not accessible to all and certain hearings were held far from where the communities resided, with certain provinces only holding one hearing. It was determined that it is clear from the evidence that Parliament failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation to reasonably facilitate public involvement in the legislative process leading to the enactment of the Bill – which rendered the legislation invalid.
     
The judgement also highlighted the key features of reasonable public participation process as codified by Parliament in the Framework and Practical Guide, which include: pre-hearing workshops, translation of summaries, transportation to hearings, advance notice, attendance by delegates and detailed public comments. A number of these important features were neglected in facilitating the public participation process of the Bill. 

In light of these concerns, we strongly urge Parliament to reevaluate its treatment of communities and take immediate steps to rectify this situation. We strongly believe that MACUA and WAMUA and all communities must be afforded the opportunity to engage meaningfully in the legislative process of the Bill. To this end, we invite Parliament to engage in open and constructive dialogue with MACUA and WAMUA to rectify the past injustices and ensure their participation moving forward.

We wish to emphasise that while we are committed to seeking an amicable resolution to this matter through dialogue and cooperation, we also reserve our right to seek legal recourse should the practice of an exclusionary public participation process persist. The Constitutional Court’s ruling in Mogale has set a clear precedent regarding the importance of meaningful public participation during the law-making process, and we are prepared to assert the rights of all affected communities and individuals in a court of law to ensure their full protection under the law. Our intention is not to resort to litigation but rather to ensure that the principles of democracy and public participation, which are foundational to our Constitution, are upheld.
     
We believe that it is essential to rectify these issues promptly and to provide a fair, transparent, and inclusive legislative process that benefits all stakeholders, including mining-affected communities.
     
Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical issue. We look forward to a swift resolution in the best interest of justice and the protection of constitutional rights. 

Yours faithfully,
Ms. Mazi Choshane Attorney: Centre for Applied Legal Studies

RESOURCES

🌐 Climate Whistleblowers (CW) is an environmental NGO dedicated to protecting individuals who expose wrongdoings that worsen the climate crisis. By supporting climate whistleblowers, CW also ensures their disclosures are impactful.

✍️OECD Watch is hosting a series of workshops about the updated OECD Guidelines. The workshops will follow on specific topics (like climate change& just transition; human rights; technology; due diligence; etc.). To join the Africa specific workshop on Using the OEDC Guidelines for Change on Thursday 2 November, 11am SAST, register HERE

 

📄We, social and climate movements, trade unions, women’s, small farmers’ and indigenous peoples’ organizations, non-governmental organizations and citizens of the world, participating in the counter-summit of social movements against the annual meetings of the WB and IMF in Marrakech from 12 to 15 October, reaffirm our struggle against illegitimate debts…

Read here the full MARRAKECH STATEMENT: 79 Years Of Neocolonial Exploitation And Destruction By The WB And The IMF, This Is Enough!

📚The Jozi Book Fair provides a platform for readers, writers, artists, school youth, children, adults and the public. The Festival is organised around the JBF’s work with its constituencies and the public throughout the year. The Jozi Book Fair annual event includes book launches, conversations with writers, art and literature exhibitions, a networking space for small publishers’; a discussion forum of Reading Circles, especially youth groups from townships in South Africa; and a space for local writers to interact with writers from Africa and the world.

The 2023 edition will take place from the 10 to the 12 of November. Watch this interview with Nosipho Mdletshe to learn more about it.

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. Cartoon on the header image by Carlos Latuff. 

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