Dear Friend, the month of November is usually filled with news and expectations of various kinds, in particular the long awaited holidays, Christmas and New Year Celebrations. Yet this November – December combined Bulletin will contain much news, most of it unexpected but nevertheless unforgettable.
First the big news: Climate catastrophe will be our feature, including the issue of the Radio 786 discussion shared in this Bulletin. This introduction will briefly outline why the commitment to vigorously tackle the climate catastrophe and rampant corporate mining appears increasingly to be a contradiction in terms. We explore it further in this Bulletin.
The news just in is that the Department of Mineral Resources have received a bloody nose from the courts which effectively means that companies that are slack on “transformation” would face no penalties for not complying with the charter’s provisions, including certain empowerment requirements and procurement, supplier and enterprise development targets. Simply put, the court has found that the Mining Charter is policy and not law and thus not binding, and the department told the court that it would not be appealing the case.
Whether this is good for mining communities or not, must be seriously debated as it is a complex issue. Whilst the companies were keen to not have binding obligations, the affected communities have dire need for firm and binding law that protects the rights of plant life, mining communities and the greater public good and our commons.
Law as part of resistance
The increased use of law by civil society groups to defend our biodiversity and also the rights of citizens, is on the increase. Take the case of the environmental groups in Ecuador who filed a legal brief seeking to halt a mining project in the Imbabura region of the country because the government failed to consider the mine’s effects on two endangered – recently discovered – frogs, among other vulnerable species. This was around the failure of the government to respect the Rights of Nature enshrined in Ecuador’s constitution.
As a build up to COP26, sister organisation Friends of the Earth scored a major victory in a Netherlands court. They wrote that for “the first time in history, a judge has held a corporation liable for causing dangerous climate change. Today, as a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) together with 17,000 co-plaintiffs and six other organisations, the court in The Hague ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years. This historic verdict has enormous consequences for Shell and other big polluters globally.”
As we write, the Makhanda High Court is expected to deliver judgment on Shell’s seismic survey case. The urgent interdict aims to stop the Amazon Warrior survey ship already in the Eastern Cape for a seismic survey off the Wild Coast, aimed at exploring for oil and gas. It is opposed by the Border Deep Sea Angling Association (BDSAA), Kei Mouth Ski Boat Club (KMSBC), Natural Justice and Greenpeace Africa. Whilst we await the outcome, it does underwrite an increased use of the law and courts to support civil society organisations.
This is understandable as those striving for social justice have to work on many levels. but if there is no work on the ground. these cases will mean little on their own.
We all know that working on the ground in these times of Covid is difficult as remote working has its strains and stresses. But we will have to endure and do so by abiding by all the regulations and getting vaccinated, so that we can continue the good fight.
Talking about the ground, we report on the confirmation that the deputy director Moses Cloete in October 2021 was also elected as the chairperson of the International Alliance for Natural Resources in Africa (IANRA), replacing the former chairperson Rafiq Hajaj who died recently. Moses has been a leader in the International Young Christian Workers (YCW) for many years as Pan-African Coordinator, International Secretary General and International President. When he returned to South Africa, he worked for a while with both ILRIG and the AIDC.
The Bench Marks Foundation also during this month welcomes the participation of Friederike Subklew-Sehume. Her story and that of newly appointed board member Zithuleli Cindi can be found in The Meet-Up. The other features include reports from the Community Monitors, Radio interviews featuring David Van Wyk and other tit-bits.
Have a fabulous break. Greet family and friends from us all and remember that we are in this together.
The South African scientists who first discovered the new Covid19 variant Omicron probably did not expect the international reaction to it. Whilst not certainly confirmed, it is believed that this variant is more contagious and easily re-infect people, and these mutations have already reached most of South African provinces.
Internationally, we see repatriations and the closing of borders and tighter lockdowns and greater shots in the arm for even children aged 5 upwards and much more. The President of South Africa has not made a change to the Covid 19 response Level 1.
What is to be done?
1.There must be an increased government capacity and coordination in responding to the pandemic. This must lay the basis for the rebuilding and the formation of quality public health system which will enable all people to use it and live to tell the story.
In 2019, the Bench Marks Foundation AGM and Conference was held under the theme “Impact of Mining on Climate Change: A Catastrophe”. The Rt Rev’d Dr Jo Seoka, Chairperson of the Foundation, was then blunt: “It is not an exaggeration to state that the country is literally burning from climate change, making living conditions for humans and animals’ habitation deadly and of course, the destruction of our environment.
Sooner than most of us think, this region and let alone the country will be a wasteland because the more we burn fossil fuels and externalise mining impacts, the more there will be destruction to our common home, the planet earth. Such a situation, entangled with deepening levels of poverty, unemployment and the highest levels of inequality in the world, makes it even more urgent that we rethink the use of fossil fuels and rather promote renewable energy. It will not help to deny that we are sitting on a time bomb, with big mining nearing an end with little rehabilitation. Worse still, mining in the region is crippled by corruption, environmental destruction and greed driven wars. So, it can’t be business as usual”. (22 October 2019)
Reading this in the light of the failed promises of the COP26 Conference is an indictment on all the leaders of society, particularly those who hold power in government and in the corporate sector. The time for talk and failed promises is over.
Many CSOs were inspired to tackle the ecological / environmental crisis imposed upon us. At the Earth Summit in Brazil, Rio 1992, leaders from many countries agreed to an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which set about a global strategy on combating climate change. There were differential obligations for countries of the North and those of the Global South but these have not been adhered to in subsequent meetings of the parties. So, where did we go wrong?
The holy Pope Francisco in his Vatican meeting with mining CEOs in 2019 told them blatantly that “economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.”
We have all the moral and scientific weight of society on our side, yet we have not done what is required. I will try in this short essay to explain why this is the case, working from the perspective of communities and the mining sector in particular.
Mining and climate change
What is undeniable is that the mining sector is a guzzler of human resources as well as mineral resources, in particular water. It is not surprising to learn that the mining sector is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases and it produces fossil energy resources that also significantly contribute to global CO2 emissions. In South Africa, debt ridden Eskom, which uses coal fired power plants to generate electricity, is the country’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter.
Secondly, given this reality and the long history of mining in South Africa, which spans about 150 years, the mining sector and government have been looking at the impacts on mining as a contributor to climate change. The dimensions of how it affects the weakest members in this chain has not been fully appreciated. What we often hear – and this is the third point – is how mining has contributed to the development of the country and the economy, GDP, etc. Little is said about the costs to human lives, directly to the workers and the communities around the mines and society at large.
We must add that regulation in favour of people and the environment, including water, is non-existent in practice. The paper rights we have do not amount to effective protection and all the defense of people, ecology and so on depends largely on civil society groups. This is unsustainable – governments are elected by us and not corporations and it is about time that they come to the aid of their people!
Lastly, this dependency on raw materials from Africa and the Global South, is premised on an approach that leaves our countries poorer through unfair terms of trade, externalisation of costs on the poor and working people within and in other countries. This is largely possible because of the work of Transnational Corporations based largely in the Global North, that work closely with their governments and state power to maintain the subjugation of what was called the Third World. Thus multilateralism is an important area of struggle for citizens but it has challenges: how can rank and file activists, organisations of the poor and workers directly and meaningfully engage? The approach at present has been to pressure our own governments to do the right thing whilst we build deep alliances with other like minded organisations on our continent and internationally.
This is what is happening but will need to be deepened. Sadly, not one of the political parties vying to win the hearts and hearts of the electorate in the municipal elections had anything to say about climate change, despite South Africa being the biggest emitter of these CO2 emissions on the African continent. If being the biggest or the second biggest economy on the continent comes with such costs, we must ask: is this worth it? The time for really thinking and implementing a post Covid economy that factors in peoples’ real lived experiences is a must. The people who bear the brunt of poverty are the workers and the poor, the small traders and ordinary people trying to make ends meet. It is they who suffer inequality and climate pressure who demand that our governments ditch austerity in favour of a justice and solidarity enhancing economy.
With the build up to the COP26 International Summit in Scotland (Glasgow), the government position sounded promising. The government committed through informing the U.N. climate office that it will aim to limit greenhouse gas emissions to no more than 510 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2025; and no more than 420 million tons by 2030.
This promising start was hailed by international civil society: “South Africa’s new climate commitment is much more ambitious than what the country put forward five years ago when the Paris Agreement was struck,” said Helen Mountford, vice president for climate & economics at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington-based environmental think tank.
The new targets mean South Africa’s emissions will decline in absolute terms beginning in 2025, a decade earlier than planned. The lower end of the target range was also shifted, from 398 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2030 to 350 million tons, the WRI concluded. Bishop Seoka pointed out that there was no room for failure and that “those who continue to undermine efforts for effective climate policies are isolated.”
Meanwhile, the Minerals Council of South Africa and the ICMM continue to say that they are interested in stemming the crisis by implying that we are in the same boat. They continue to argue for a ”right balance between environmental, social and economic outcomes, to promote the prosperity of people and the planet.”
Mining communities have always suffered at the hands of corporate mining, which has destroyed their health, livelihoods and community wellbeing. So when the ICMM states that it recognises the “contribution we can make in this regard, not only in supplying essential minerals and metals, but in building the resilience of our host communities and countries”, we must say that we have not seen the evidence on the ground.
A few years ago, the CER took legal action against South African conglomerate SASOL for polluting citizens’ right to clean air. Their recent report entitled Full Disclosure is a valuable resource for activists involved in the rights of mining communities, the environment and human rights. It is a detailed investigation of listed South African companies with significant environmental and climate impacts on society.
Recently in their protests outside the Sasol’s AGM, they reminded the world that “Sasol is South Africa’s second-highest emitter of GHGs, after Eskom. Its Synfuels plant in Secunda, Mpumalanga, is the largest single-source point of GHG emissions on the planet and its pollution is a serious threat to human health. Sasol is also among the 100 companies estimated to be responsible for 71% of global GHG emissions, and one of the 90 corporate entities responsible for two-thirds of global carbon emissions between 1850 and 2010.”
To close this short essay, I interviewed academic-activist and a leader at COPAC, Professor Vishwas Satgar about his views on the COP 26 Summit process and conclusions. Satgar said:
“The COP Summit predictably was a failure for human and non-human life. The failure of the COP to prevent a 1.5C overshoot despite the warnings of climate science and the lived reality of climate shocks exposes the limits of the UN led process. Climate Justice forces have been challenging the carbon capital bias of this process for almost two decades. Moreover, it is clear historical emitters in the global north are not willing to give substance to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. There is no commitment to addressing the climate debt owed let alone loss and damages that are already incurred by poor countries in the Global South.
The COP confirmed the eco-fascism of the Global North and despite the existence of climate forces in these countries there has not been a significant shift. Several side agreements or pledges such as on the phase out of coal were also not signed by the big polluters such as the USA, China, India and South Africa.
South Africa did not even sign up to the methane reduction pledge but all it could celebrate was a limited amount of ESKOM funding whose details are unclear. The ANC-led government is not serious about placing South Africa on a climate emergency footing but continues an ambiguous, performative, duplicitous and ignorant approach to the climate crisis. By now South Africa, facing a 3 degree Celsius increase with a 1.5c overshoot this decade, should be way more serious. Every policy, line department and cooperative governance tier should be locked into addressing the deep, just transition now, accelerating it!”
To my question about mining and the fight against the climate catastrophe, Satgar replied thus:
“Mining still has a place within a climate emergency approach to the just transition. However, fossil fuel mining has to be phased out fast as part of a deep, and just transition.
This requires democratic planning involving workers, affected communities, capital and the state. Instead, we have SASOL doing greenwash and ESKOM struggling to keep the lights on. There isn’t a concerted approach by the corrupt ANC state to place mining on a new climate emergency footing. Instead it is extending the minerals-energy complex off shore, more fracking and so on. We must resist this at all costs.”
What are the takeaways from this? We are all in the same boat, but some of us – the poor and workers – are doing the heavy lifting and carrying the burden more than the bosses and government. We have to organise or die. It is time that governments come out on the side of its people!
By Hassen Lorgat
AFRICA WILL LOSE ALL THREE OF ITS ICEBERGS TO CLIMATE CHANGE
The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro are nothing short of iconic. Photographs of the dormant volcano in Tanzania often highlight the white streaks on the side, which grow thicker as they rise toward the top. When you arrive at the cap of the volcano, it becomes nothing but white, like a dollop of cream pressed flat and smeared over the top of a lava cake.
Thanks to climate change, however, Mount Kilimanjaro is warming up. That means that while there still may be snow atop the mountain in a few decades, it is likely that the glaciers will disappear.
There are only three mountains on the entire African continent that are covered by glaciers, according to a recent report by the World Meteorological Organization and other agencies. In addition to Kilimanjaro, these include the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and the Mount Kenya massif in Kenya, and they are vital to the economies of the surrounding areas. The glaciers bring in tourism and are closely studied by scientists. They are also, tragically, retreating at a much faster rate than glaciers throughout the world are doing on average — a cruel irony, considering that the 54 countries in Africa contribute less than four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
This fact was not lost on the authors of the report. Moreover, the loss of the glaciers is not the biggest humanitarian problem facing Africa due to global warming: the continent faces rising sea levels, floods, droughts, landslides and extreme weather events.
Still, the loss of Africa’s glaciers symbolizes how priceless natural wonders are being irreversibly destroyed by greenhouse gas pollution, as well as the fact that populations which did very little to cause this problem are being most affected.
“The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system,” WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas explained in a foreword to the report. The authors also did not mince words about their somber predictions for the future of African mountain glaciers.
“If this continues, it will lead to total deglaciation by the 2040s,” the authors explained. “Mount Kenya is expected to be deglaciated a decade sooner, which will make it one of the first entire mountain ranges to lose glaciers due to human-induced climate change.”
The report focused on the economic impact of climate change in Africa, noting that gross domestic product may fall in the sub-Saharan region by up to three percent by 2050 because of warming temperatures. By 2030, the co-authors project that up to 118 million people in the region who are classified as extremely poor (meaning they live on less than $1.90 per day) will be exposed to floods, droughts and extreme heat because of climate change. The authors also noted that Madagascar is already facing “famine-like conditions” due to climate change and that South Sudan is seeing the worst flooding in more than half a century. Despite these stark realities, African countries are notoriously underrepresented in multinational groups that attempt to address the problem of climate change.
Article by Matthew Rozsa, originally published in truthout.org
BENCH MARKS COMMUNITY MONITORS ARE WATCHING – AN UPDATE
The goal of the community monitors programme is to give support to activists to enable them to speak with power and independently about the situation of the communities they live in. They are required to prepare and publish regular reports on community problems with analysis and ideas for action.
We used the COVID19 lockdown period as a time reflect, review and search for new designs in our work.
A new set of guidelines for basic monitors reports
Activists based in communities see and hear, in the raw, the impact of mines and the failures of government. Over the past decade, community monitors have produced thousands of reports of text and pictures on the life in communities living near mines See the community monitors weblog: http://communitymonitors.net
During these COVID restrictions on face to face (in person) meetings, we have used our time to review our work. In our review, we found that the activists’ reports tended to be weak in the presentation of information and did not bring out facts required for analysis. As a way of resolving this problem, we turned to the conventional journalistic writing structure. Previously we encouraged activists to write freely in their own voice as a way of breaking the tyranny of “proper grammar”. This has been successful to get activists writing but it carried weaknesses.
In the new approach, we guide monitors to continue writing in their own voice but to more consciously check that they report answers basic questions: ‘What, Where, When and Who. Following this, we guide them to go on to say “Why” (what is the cause of the problem) as well as to be assertive and say “what should be done” to resolve the problem and by whom.
We now have a new set of writing guidelines. Ten monitors were trained to share these guidelines out of the 50 monitors in the program. We are already observing some improvements in the writing of reports, but know that this is a slow process which we will continue working on.
Exploring digital Mapping Tools
The Monitors observations through their reports point to key problems but do not go deep enough in their analysis to reveal the causal relationships. In large part, this is due to the lack of formal research skills and expert knowledge on community problems.
We have started to look at ways in which digital tools can assist monitors in their analysis. We are exploring the use of digital analysis and visualisation tools such as the spreadsheet database and digital mapping.
As a way of understanding what is possible, we have set up a little pilot with 10 monitors in the Sekhukhune district in Limpopo. They have been currently using geo located photographs and digital maps to describe the crisis of waste management in their area. They have taken on the challenge to show the nature and extent of the problem across the Sekhukhune district as well as to propose a community-based solution to the problem.
The exercise required that monitors learn to use basic internet communication applications (e.g. email and digital forms) and activate camera location settings on the cellphones. The local coordinators are learning how to use a digital database (spreadsheets) as a basis to present visual reports and digital maps.
We are a few weeks down in this exercise and we are learning. There are many surprises: we find that activists are capable of much more than we believed they were, e.g. accessing, completing, and submitting digital forms. There are at the same time many frustrations. Monitors do not have unlimited mobile data, which is important for experimentation and learning. Monitors have instruments (smartphones) which are low capacity and lack access to laptops, necessary for complex tasks.
Whilst the use of internet and digital tools is relatively simple, in the final analysis it is the commitment of activists to persist in their practice which will enable them to turn these resources into activist digital tools.
We hope success in this first exercise will generate new ideas and tools for the community monitors’ programme.
We will keep you informed.
A meeting place to learn about organisations, networks, movements and people resisting injustices and whom we work with.
MEET NEW BOARD MEMBER: NYANGANA ZITHULELE CINDI
Cindi is a board member who is well versed in corporate governance as he served over the years on organisations like the Community Growth Fund and other similar projects. But many do not know where he comes from. Cindi was born in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, on 18th of August in 1950. Cindi began his primary education at Entokozweni Nursery School. The 1960s forced removals saw his family relocating to Diepkloof in Soweto where he subsequently attended Orlando West High School. While he was there, he joined the African Students’ Movement in the 1960s. In October 1968, he was arrested and sentenced to 14 days hard labour for failing to show the security police a “dompas’ on the eve of his examinations. In 1972 he became part of the Black People’s Convention (BPC) , eventually becoming its Secretary General in December 1973 at the age of 23. Daring as ever, on 6 December 1973 – at the height of apartheid -, Cindi and his BPC invited by letter South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO), the liberation movement in Namibia, to attend the 2nd Annual Congress of the BPC, as observers. Read More
In September 1974, Cindi and a number of his comrades were arrested and put on trial for organising the Viva FRELIMO rally, which took place at Curries Fountain Stadium in Durban on 25 September 1974 in support of FRELIMO’s 1974 victory over the Portuguese colonialists in Mozambique. This brought an end to a ten-year war of liberation.
The South African History Online writes that Cindi “was then charged under the Terrorism Act and became a defendant in the lengthy trial of the South African Students Organisation (SASO) Nine in 1975-76. After a guilty verdict of “committing acts capable of endangering the maintenance of law and order, he was sentenced to five years on Robben Island.”
On his release from the island in 1981, he soon joined AZAPO and in 1983 became the organizing secretary of the National Forum (NF). In 1986, he got involved in trade unionism when he became part of the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa (MEWUSA), later working as assistant General Secretary. The union was affiliated to the National Council of Trade Unions. In 2006, Cindi was elected as the National Chairperson of AZAPO.
When President Mandela died, the SABC interviewed Cindi about relations on Robben Island. It turned out to be both informative and entertaining… Check it out here.
At Bench Marks, I am Frieda because Friederike Subklew-Sehume is just too long a name for my comrades. I come from Berlin in Germany and joined the Bench Marks Foundation in the middle of October.
I have been working in the field of development cooperation for 16 years with different NGOs in South Africa and Germany. I studied Social Pedagogic and Conflict Resolution in Germany and Transitional Justice as well as Research, Monitoring and Evaluation in South Africa. I have always found it enriching to link different fields and contexts. And in my professional life I have played different roles: in one organisation I conceptualised projects, in others I managed projects and teams. I worked as a consultant and as a technical advisor.
The results management unit of Bread for the World has been my professional home in Germany. I managed evaluation processes worldwide. At some point I felt I needed a change of perspective again and wanted to change head office against a closer connection to project reality. I was excited when Bread for the World indicated that the Bench Marks Foundation was interested in a Personnel Deployment.
And so it happened: I spoke with John and Moses and we felt that my engagement could be mutually beneficial. I am looking forward to strengthening the monitoring and evaluation function of the organisation, to promoting gender sensitivity of its programmes and to providing organisational development support in this time of transition!
And on a more personal note: my South African journey started in 1996 in Limpopo. From there it took me to Cape Town, Pretoria, Nelspruit and Johannesburg. I got married in South Africa and we have two sons. In 2014 I felt it was time to reconnect with my German roots and to give the boys a chance to spend time with my family. So we moved back to Germany. This time was important for all of us for many reasons but after the birth of our third son (in Berlin) we all felt it was important for us all to reconnect with our South African family. Now we are back!
COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS MUST BE AN ALLY ON THE SIDE OF COMMMUNITY STRUGGLES
Many media activists have a dim view of many community radio stations, which have sprung up after our new democratic dispensation. And with good reason, as many are badly run, commercialised and have been taken over by narrow minded groups who monopolise a community resource against the public good and interests.
Radio 786 tempered my views somewhat. The two radio conversations on the Climate Catastrophe on Prime Talk on Radio 786 hosted by Fairuz Nagia, were good radio. The guests included Francesca de Gasparis, Executive Director of Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), David van Wyk, lead researcher of the Bench Marks Foundation made me rethink, and Zaid Omer, founder of Engineers for Innovation (E4I) Association. SAFCEI is a multi-faith organisation committed to supporting faith leaders and their communities in Southern Africa to increase awareness, understanding and action on eco-justice, sustainable living and climate change.
– The first programme was broadcasted before COP26 Summit and the podcast can be found HERE.
– The second programme explored the outcomes of the COP26 summit. It can be found HERE.
Check out Radio 786, which was formed in 1995 as a community talk that broadcasts on 100.4FM to the Greater Cape Town Metropolitan area of the Western Cape and can be streamed live through linking with its website. It has a public profile as a religious station and is a project of the Islamic Unity Convention, with independent editorial and financial policies. In its reporting on the climate crisis, it has confirmed its motto which – as they state – is to inform, educate, uplift.