Mining for the benefit of whom?

The Alternative Mining Indaba brings together people from mining communities across the globe.

It began as a protest movement, when companies, governments and financiers met in Cape Town for the corporate African “Mining Indaba” in 2010. Since then, grassroots organisations have held alternative events when the industry’s major actors have convened for their annual meeting. “Indaba” is the traditional word for “meeting” in the Zulu language.

The Alternative Mining Indaba brings together community activists, churches and other faith-based groups, and development aid organisations.

NAI senior researcher Patience Mususa says that there is a general sense among people in mining communities of being excluded from the decisions mining companies and governments make.

“Governments talk the talk, but are they doing enough to build local partnerships?”, she says.

In her work Mususa studies the dynamics that have affected mining communities in the Zambian Copperbelt during commodity busts and booms. She has written on the impact of the re-privatisation of state conglomerate Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines on mining communities since the late 1990s, which saw about two-thirds of the workforce lose their jobs. Her current research looks at the planning processes for new mines and re-investment in old ones. It includes exploring people’s concerns about pollution and waste from mining, and expectations of jobs and development.

Patience Mususa. Photo: Mattias Sköld

In February Mususa visited the eighth Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town, with the theme “domestication of the African mining vision”, on how to make mining production serve the interests of local people.

“There are many similarities between mining communities around the world. The Alternative Mining Indaba provides an opportunity for people to meet and raise concerns, plan action, engage in dialogue or go up against mining projects that they think will have a negative impact.”

Mususa also visited the corporate “Investing in African Mining Indaba”, where an open half-day sustainability session was organised. Most of the other sessions at the meeting were only open to participants who had paid a registration fee of over US$ 1,600.  

“You become very well aware of the differentials in power. The communities can advocate and push, but the mining companies are sitting down directly with government ministers.”

Also, many African governments with relatively small, mining-dependent economies have limited influence in comparison with the large mining conglomerates, Mususa adds.

So have the Alternative Mining Indaba and other forms advocacy managed to change the mining industry for the better?

Mususa refers to a Zambian community member who talked about “small gains”, like the creation of training programmes for locals to work in the mining industry, while the bigger picture remains unchanged.

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