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Press Releases

Bench Marks Foundation Media Release – For Immediate Release


A Rushed Job Undermines Democracy and Puts Communities at Risk

 

Date of issue – 14 May 2020

 

The DMRE has been sitting on the decision to consult communities for a period of almost two weeks. As the judge ruled in the AMCU matter on May 1 2020 (CASE NO.: J427 / 2020), the government only gazetted the draft regulations on May 11 and it reached us at the eleventh hour. The judge ordered that the process be finalised by May 18, and their failure to work proactively and inclusively has resulted in giving us a period of 48 hours to respond on matters of life and death. Mining communities we work with cannot respond with informed manner nor provide their consent by May 14, which is today!


It is a rushed job and does not constitute meaningful consultation nor negotiating in good faith. If unchecked, it could result in ill health and death of hundreds, if not thousands of infections, which could spiral out of control. We do not wish for this, and hence our urgent intervention for caution, compassion and sober leadership.


We further note that:

 

  1. The DMRE COVID-19 “minimum guidelines” states that they have been “compiled specifically with the view to provide guidance to all stakeholders regarding their roles and responsibilities with regards to the mitigation and management of COVID-19 outbreak” and further “ensuring that mine employees are provided with a healthy and safe working environment that is also maintained, the employer must put a procedure in place to be followed by employees to exercise section 23 of the MHSA during the COVID-19 outbreak.”


The guidelines demand that employees be classified according to their level of risk. Risk not only of being in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 but also in terms of age and chronic diseases, as well as where they work on site.


Importantly, we note that these DMRE guidelines are enforceable as the mining houses will have to route it for preparation, implementation and revision of the COP, section 9 of the Mine Health and Safety Act. This is welcomed, yet we cannot ignore the shortcomings. Whilst it recommends that the mine’s COP must include a dedicated 24-hour number that employees may use to reach the mine’s dedicated healthcare workers contracted to assist with COVID-19, the Foundation is not optimistic when it comes to hotline numbers given our past experience. We ask that these be staffed by persons who are well paid and professional so that the desperate calls are adequately and competently addressed. Too many hotlines result in hot air. What we need is genuine implementation in line with Batho Pele Principles.

 

  1. We continue to decry the exclusion of mining communities in these guidelines as well as in structures such as the Ministerial Task Team. The Task Team is populated by government, employers and organised labour but the absence of Civil Society or Community Based Organisations is glaring. The failure to include these communities, organisations and their representatives fails to harness the influence and power of these groups to stem the tide of COVID-19 in their communities.


It follows that those living near communities, particularly informal settlements, are not considered or included in the guidelines but the reality of their existence is plain to see. Many of those living in the informal settlements surrounding the mines have been driven there by dire poverty and inequality to seek work. Others include employees who have taken the living out allowance offered by mining companies as a result of their failure to provide decent housing for their employees.


Inside job

 

Whilst workers inside the workplace will be screened on entry to the mine, they are on their own once they exit after their shift. Nothing is said about the fact that infected workers may be asymptomatic for up to 14 days.

 

Given this reality, how do the employers and government deal with the workers who live in these informal settlements? These mine workers cannot self isolate or quarantine. It is obvious that one cannot self isolate in an informal settlement. How is the patient to obtain water from communal taps, and how will he or she get food? Mining and its impacts do not stop at the company gates.

 

  1. The Bench Marks Foundation fears that, when the alcohol and smoking bans are lifted, enforcement of social distancing and other guidelines will be difficult or near impossible for those who live next to and/or frequent informal settlements’s shebeens and taverns.

 

In addition, as our researcher David van Wyk argues, “given our deep level shaft mines, the centralized ventilation systems will pick this virus and spread it around faster than athletes on steroids. The hot air that is sucked up from below is blasted out on the surface through huge pipes, which in many cases exit in the middle of communities like in Chaneng in Bafokeng. We have the photos to support our claim. Many mines use semi treated sewage or brown water to operate hydraulic rock drills, and studies have found COVID-19 in sewage. What are the guarantees that COVID-19 will not be sprayed all over rock drill operators as they operate their drills underground?”


Migrant Labour

 

People are surprised by the sudden spike in COVID-19 infections in the Eastern Cape. We are not. Have we forgotten the system of migrant labour that was established under colonialism and continued under apartheid? Well, it lives. At the start of lockdown, thousands of migrant workers hit public transport from the mines in the North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga passing through what was then the epicentre of the virus explosion in South Africa, that is, Gauteng. Three to four weeks later the virus is beginning to show its impact. Now migrant workers have been allowed to return from the so called labour sending areas to the North West Province, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. They used public transport, passing through Gauteng. Now we just have to wait between two and four weeks to see the explosion in these provinces. The migrant labour system is the stream that will carry this virus to and fro throughout this country and make it very difficult to contain. Screening on its own fails to contain the virus because most infected people are asymptomatic for the first two weeks and will walk through screening undetected.


The demand to be included in decision-making is not an act of charity but a fundamental right fought and died for in our struggles. The time is not too late to make amends.

 

Issued by Moses Cloete

Deputy Director of the Bench Marks Foundation

 

For additional comment, contact:

 

David Van Wyk + 27 82 652 5061   

Hassen Lorgat   + 27 82 362 6180

Bench Marks Foundation Media Release – For Immediate Release

There is no ceasefire in the war against the poor and working people during the lockdown

Date of issue – 9 April 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic and the South African lockdown has revealed not only the best of our human emotions but also persistent cases of the war against the poor and working people. We will highlight only a few, but we point out that we are busy with other civil society groups campaigning for the allocation of much needed food, water and sanitation support to those in most need. We join with others to call for persuasion and not brute force in obtaining compliance at this time where our total humanity is challenged. The structural and systemic concentration of the poor and working people was always a powder keg. Now it is a time for compassionate public servants collaborating with citizen volunteers, social movements and people’s organisations, non-governmental organisations and unions to chart a way out of the crisis.

Here under we list a few of the concerns addressed to the authorities and the public. These involve the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), of Environmental Affairs, of Water and Sanitation, as well as the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) as we discuss below:

1. DMRE: a flawed and anti-democratic consultative process

The attempts by the Ministry and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to rush through amendments to the MPRDA within a 30 day period. The deadline for this was 26 March 2020. Since we are in the 21-day lockdown period, it is impossible to effectively obtain mandates from the mining impacted communities. The prohibition on gatherings and travel for “non-essential reasons” limits consultations under these circumstances, as it prevents community based organisations and their civil society partners from engaging meaningfully with the amendments. Hence to keep the original deadline is tantamount to an eviction from these processes. It is not only anti-democratic and unjust, but also goes against the spirit of the solidarity that the president and our government has called for and that we generally support.

2. The issuing of mining licences reflects a business as usual approach!

The Foundation is also concerned about the issuing of new mining permits during the lockdown period. We are of the opinion that there should be a freeze on all licences until after the State of Disaster has been lifted and mine affected and impacted communities can participate in the procedures and processes described in the MPRDA regarding community consultation and participation. If this is not done, any licences issued during this period will have undermined democratic process.

3. Ministry and Department of Environmental Affairs: Hot Air but Little Solidarity

Together with a host of other progressive CSOs, the Bench Marks Foundation is concerned that, instead of using this time of the lockdown to continue to clean up South Africa, our government has done the contrary. Just four days after the president announced the regulations for a national lockdown to fight corona virus, the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries gazetted sulphur dioxide (S02) air pollution standards (called minimum emission standards, or MES) that are twice as weak as the previous standards.

Instead of Eskom, Sasol, and other facilities with coal boilers, having to meet the original SO2 standard of 500 mg/Nm3, they will now only be required to comply with MES doubly as weak (1000 mg/Nm3). The new limit applies either from 1 April 2020, or by the delayed dates that these companies have already been given by the National Air Quality Officer.

This has further opened up the vulnerabilities of poor and working people already compromised by the ills caused by mining. The research undertaken by Life After Coal – led by Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, groundWork and the Centre for Environmental Rights – has shown that 3,300 premature deaths would be caused by doubling the SO2 standard just for Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, as a result of increased risk of lower respiratory infections, increased risk of stroke, and increased risk of death from diabetes. The Bench Marks Foundation asks why this is necessary if the government claims that it is a compassionate government and calling us all to be there for the other at this time. We ask: why NOW? And who benefits?

4. Department of Environmental Affairs: erroneous judgement at the time of COVID-19

During April, we learned with dismay that the minister has rejected most of appeals made by communities and activist groups for no further beach mining to take place at the Tormin mine on the West Coast north of the Olifants River. Minister Creecy has effectively given the go-ahead to mining. Mining in these sensitive areas is a slippery slope and will not help the country contribute towards creating ecologically sustainable development. We join the Centre for Environmental Rights in warning that the errors of judgement of the Minister, at this time will undermine not only the terrestrial biodiversity but also our democracy as we know it.

5. Ministry and Department of Water and Sanitation and Minerals Council South Africa

We have learned that the DWS is working to meet the historic shortage of adequate water supplies to poor and working communities, as part of the battle against COVID-19. It has been reported that over 41 000 water tanks have been delivered. Mining impacted communities regularly suffer from good quality water supplies, often to benefit of water guzzling mines and industry. We call on the polluters of our water and environmental resources to foot the bill, under the auspices of the Department of Health and DWS for the provision of the water supplies. These must reach the people most in need and we urge the authorities to work with the legitimate representatives of the communities, including voluntary associations, NGOs and unions.

6. Mine Health and Safety Council: to include near mining communities in their coverage

Finally, it would appear that the government does not take seriously its climate change commitments made to citizens and the international community. Climate change is real, and granting licences and ignoring the air quality standards is not the way to go.

On the other hand, we must commend the minister of Mineral Resources’ unannounced inspections of mines to determine the adherence of mining operations to the COVID-19 decrees. We call on the Minister to insist that mine clinics, hospitals and health facilities open to near mine communities and public in general on “living out allowance” and thus, staying in informal settlements and townships where they work.

Whilst we are at it, we are aware that the Mine Health and Safety Council is mandated to ensure transformation of occupational health and safety in the mining industry, working towards “the achievement of Zero Harm to mine workers and mining communities”. Yet in its structures, work programmes and practices, it has ignored ensuring zero harm to mining communities as result of mining activities. This is the time to set this right, as it will mark a real and programmatic turn towards tackling the chronic illnesses that have engulfed communities living around mines. We offer our good offices as well as that of the many mining communities we work with, towards making our participation in the decision-making in the MHSC a reality.


Issued by the Bench Marks Foundation

For additional information contact:

David Van Wyk + 27 82 652 5061

Hassen Lorgat + 27 82 362 6180



For the editors

Additional resources

Life after Coal

Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, groundWork, and the Centre for Environmental Rights. We aim to: discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people.

https://lifeaftercoal.org.za/

Mine Health and Safety Council

It states it vision as: To be the knowledge leader and trusted advisor to the Minister of Mineral Resources and stakeholders on occupational health and safety matters, and to promote the transformation of occupational health and safety in the mining industry towards the achievement of Zero Harm to mine workers and mining communities.

https://www.mhsc.org.za/

Partner Organisations: CDT Foundation, South African Council of Churches, Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation, Industrial Mission, Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference / Board of Directors: Rt. Rev. Dr Jo Seoka, Mr. Allan Wentzel, Ds Piet Beukes, Mr. Mokhethi Moshoeshoe, Mr Henk Smith, Ms Sonto Magwaza, Ms Zonke Majodina

Media statement by the Bench Marks Foundation


Protect the land from landgrabbers, Bishop to tell Mining Indaba
Cape Town, Sunday 3 February 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Democratically elected leaders such as cabinet ministers should protect communities from land grabbers. Instead, people’s land continues to be stripped, degraded and ultimately destroyed for profit from mining activities.

This is the hard-hitting message that the Chairperson of the Bench Marks Foundation, Bishop Jo Seoka, will deliver to the African Mining Indaba due to start in Cape Town tomorrow.

In his speech to the Indaba on its sustainable development day on Tuesday 5 February, the Bishop will say: “It is difficult to understand why the minister of mineral resources appears to support foreign invaders of the land to force development for short-term financial benefits instead of sustainable development for the people when they have democratic rights to choose and decide their future.

“All this tells us that the new dawn of President Ramaphosa is nothing but talk, otherwise democratically elected ministers would protect communities and their land from land grabbers.”

The Bishop is encouraged by the inclusion of a sustainable development day in the Mining Indaba, and notes that this is indicative of the increasing importance of the concept of sustainable development in the modern discourse.

“The primary goal of “counter development”, that of sustainable development, is to provide people with the means to make fully informed choices about their own future. Any other form of development, particularly one that is geared towards instant economic benefits, is not sustainable but contributes towards disruption of traditional practices, and promotes social and environmental destruction.

“The way mining is forced on the people as a means of development is discouraging the fullest possible use of local resources, knowledge and skills. But negotiated development until full and informed agreement is reached has the outcome of promoting self-respect and self-reliance, restoring human dignity and upholding the integrity of the environment, thereby protecting life-sustaining diversity and creating the conditions for locally based, truly sustaining development,” he will say in his speech.

The Bishop contrasts traditional economic development with sustainable development: “Despite its potential to contribute towards people’s welfare, economic development fails to promote sustainable small scale decentralised economic enterprises. It only succeeds in creating a dream of a better, richer and more comfortable life. Unfortunately, this illusion manifests itself in an emphasis on commercial gains and material possessions such cellular phones and other gadgets that give impression of wealth, modernity and prosperity. The opposite is, however, true and part of the ample proof that mining is unsustainable. Poverty is never eliminated. However, mining activity leads to the uncontrolled rise squatter communities, environmental destruction becomes worse, and the gap between the poor and the rich widens. The problem is that development alone has become linked to narrow goals of short-term profit and expediency and has been accorded an unwarranted influence in shaping our society.”

In his speech, Bishop Seoka encourages the mining industry to make use of two of Bench Marks Foundation’s products, viz the Independent Capacity Building Fund (ICF) and Independent Problem-Solving Service (IPSS), both of which open possibilities for constructive engagement.

“There are enough examples around the world where mediated dialogue has resolved problems that appeared to be insurmountable. We are more than willing to be of assistance if the objective of government and business is sustainable development. It will be fruitless to coerce people to accept development that under-develops them because there will be resistance to it from communities.”

Earlier in the speech, he refers to several case studies of communities negatively impacted by mining, including that of the Amadiba people of the Xolobeni community in the Eastern Cape.

“The truth of this unfortunate fiasco is the failure of the government officials to listen to the people. There are no records or evidence to show that the Amadiba people do not want development. They have said time and again that they prefer eco-tourism and organic agriculture to mining because it offers them long-term sustainable development compared to mining which is not only destructive but has a short life span of fifteen to twenty years.

“This is their reason for stopping Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources and the state from destroying the natural beauty of this part of the Eastern Cape. The High Court’s recent decision that communities must give their consent to mining activity, rather than merely being consulted about it, was a seminal moment in ensuring better quality of people’s lives.”

Bishop Seoka notes that mining houses will in future have to seek consent from communities for investments that can now only be realised through mutually agreed sustainable development programmes. This approach has the potential to also stop environmental degradation which destroys the land, making it unsuitable for agricultural and stock farming, he says.

Asking whether society wants its children and generations to come to inherit an uninhabitable earth, Bishop Seoka says he doubts this.

“There is enough evidence that investing in society and in sustainable development pays good dividends, is profitable and guarantees a more healthy and just society now and in future. There is no reason, therefore why business such as mining should take short cuts which destroys the mother earth for profit.”

The Bishop adds: “Sustainable development is an approach to development that seeks to create a balance between different and competing needs on the one hand, against an awareness of the environment, social and economic limitations faced by the society on the other.

“Unfortunately, it must be said that mining has had a devastating impact on both communities (human) and environment (nature). We have at our disposal ample evidence that confirms the destructiveness of this activity, and the damage it has caused to both communities and environment.

“Bench Marks’ studies and research through its Policy Gap series has informed us that mining is destructive rather that constructive, increasing our commitment to advocate for sustainable development around the mining communities. If there are no sustainable development programmes that are carefully thought through and implemented, the result can only be regrettable because the future will be bleaker. President Ramaphosa’s new dawn will remain but a dream for the poorest of the poor,” he says.

ENDS

Bench Marks Foundation is an independent non-governmental organisation mandated by churches to monitor the practices of multi-national corporations to
• ensure they respect human rights;
• protect the environment;
• ensure that profit-making is not done at the expense of other interest groups; and
• ensure that those most negatively impacted upon are heard, protected and accommodated within the business plans of the corporations.

The Foundation was launched in 2001 by the Rt Rev Dr Jo Seoka who chairs the organisation and by member churches of the SACC.

Bench Marks Foundation contact:
Bench Marks Foundation media contact
Mr John Capel
Executive Director
011 832 1743 or 082 870 8861
Email: jcapel@eject.co.za
Ruth Coggin
082 903 5819
Email: ruth@quo-vadis.co.za

New minister may listen to community voices

Johannesburg, Wednesday 28 February 2018

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

The Bench Marks Foundation has welcomed the appointment of Gwede Mantashe as the minister of mineral resources, adding that he may be the right person to fully grasp the industry and its impacts and listen to the voice of civil society and communities’ concerns.

 

Executive Director of Bench Marks Foundation, John Capel, says: “The new minister once worked in a mine and, as former general secretary of the ANC, must be aware of the many negative impacts and the winners and losers’ dichotomy.

 

“President Cyril Ramaphosa sees mining as sunshine industry, but the sun is only for some. Will he be committed to making it a sunshine industry for impacted communities and workers as well?” he asked. 

 

He added: “If the mining sector is to become a ‘sunshine’ industry, it has to search for clean, democratic and empowering alternatives to community involvement. It also has to factor in concerns about water use and climate change.”

 

“The poor and working people will not accept the obligation of saving the sector, while they die of poverty, marginalisation and illnesses directly related to mining. This externalisation of costs onto people and the environment must come to an end. We trust the new minister will be firm in this regard.

 

“The Foundation celebrates the recent court “victory” that ensures that mining communities and their organisations will be permitted to participate in drafting the revised mining charter, but we point out that this is but the beginning. The real test is whether mining communities that have since colonial times been systemically excluded from decision making in matters concerning their own lives will have the legal right in the MPRDA to talk for themselves.

 

“In addition, we believe that participation will be meaningless without the building of strong democratic mass organisations of the poor, with professional and quality technical support provided by the authorities. It follows that, since mining is not a solution for all, nor for all our problems, mining communities must have the right to say ‘no’ to mining and these wishes must be respected.

 

“Alternative forms of producing livelihoods need to be affirmed and supported by all the resources available in the democratic state. Punishing communities for choosing other developmental paths is anti-democratic and unjust and will be resisted,” the Foundation said.

 

The Foundation pointed out that mining communities lack information and access to social justice.

 

“We therefore hope the new minister will support our work in levelling the playing fields between mines and communities. We need to strengthen community’s democratic and constitutional rights.  Communities are severely disadvantaged when a mine arrives with promises that mining is investment and investment in them, only to suffer livelihood loss, land and be uprooted or impacted upon when they believed otherwise.

 

“Thus we have been calling on the industry to support an independent capacity building fund that allows communities access to specialist expertise and advice around environmental impact assessments, social and economic impacts so they can make informed decisions.

 

“In addition, communities have no real way to resolve problems. In this regard we are establishing the independent problem solving service that will use impartial facilitators to assist communities to resolve problems with the industry. We hope the new minister will be open to listen to a wide range of issues related to interest and impacted groups,” the Foundation said.


ENDS

 

Bench Marks Foundation is an independent non-governmental organisation mandated by churches to monitor the practices of multi-national corporations to

  • ensure they respect human rights;
  • protect the environment;
  • ensure that profit-making is not done at the expense of other interest groups; and
  • ensure that those most negatively impacted upon are heard, protected and accommodated within the business plans of the corporations.


The Foundation was launched in 2001 by the Rt Rev Dr Jo Seoka who chairs the organisation and by member churches of the SACC.

 

Bench Marks Foundation contact:

Bench Marks Foundation media contact

Hassen Lorgat

Advocacy and Lobbying

082 362 6180

Ruth Coggin

082 903 5819

Email: ruth@quo-vadis.co.za

 

Media Statement by Bench Marks Foundation

Never Again Marikana: We are watching you

 

3 October 2013

For immediate release

 

As much as mining has contributed to developing the South African economy, it has also had negative social, economic and environmental consequences. All of these need to be highlighted, debated, and actions – agreed on by all stakeholders – need to be implemented to mitigate the negative consequences of this essential sector.

So says John Capel, Executive Director of the Bench Marks Foundation, who has announced that a conference will take place on 14 October 2013 at Willow View Lodge in Kempton Park to facilitate this debate.

“The theme for the conference is “Never again Marikana: We are watching you,” says Capel.

“We chose this theme because this tragic event made a huge impact in the mining sector and many others, not least the economy.

“We should never forget the underlying causes and we need to look for ways in which to prevent this from ever happening again.

“We need to find ways to include communities in matters that ultimately affect them, and we also need to discuss the future of mining, not just in South Africa, but worldwide.”

 Capel says that people from various sectors, such as business and civil society from South Africa, Africa, Europe and South East Asia, as well as community members directly affected by mining, have already registered to attend the conference.

“To adequately debate the issues and come to a consensus, we strongly urge more mining houses, government departments, non-governmental organisations and businesses attend the conference”.

In addition to the conference, Bench Marks will also be launching another of its studies on 15 October 2013 at the same venue. The last study, A Review of Platinum Mining in the Bojanela District of the North West Province, was launched a few days prior to the Marikana Massacre in August 2012.

For more information on the conference and to register, contact Bench Marks Foundation on 011 832 1743 or send an email to info@bench-marks.org.za.

 

 

Notes to editors:

 

Bench Marks Foundation is an independent non-governmental organisation mandated by churches to monitor the practices of multi-national corporations to

  • ensure they respect human rights;
  • protect the environment;
  • ensure that profit-making is not done at the expense of other interest groups; and
  • ensure that those most negatively impacted upon are heard, protected and accommodated within the business plans of the corporations.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu launched the Foundation in 2001 and the Rt Rev Dr Jo Seoka chairs the organisation.

 

Bench Marks Foundation Contact:

Mr John Capel,

Executive Director

011 832 1743 or 082 870 8861

Email: jcapel@eject.co.za