The state of the nation address was a missed opportunity to begin the process of healing our democracy and restoring trust in its institutions. Instead it will go down in history as the moment in which the state tried to obstruct journalists, and police forcibly removed MPs. However, in the analysis of what transpired that night, a number of other human rights issues have been overlooked.
The address was also a wasted opportunity to open a dialogue on a genuinely inclusive social contract for the mining sector. On the contrary, a bias towards the concerns of elites over those of the poor and marginalised, and the status quo over change, was quite apparent.
Particularly troubling was the continued failure to recognise mine-affected communities as a stakeholder with legitimate interests and a right to take a seat at the bargaining table. The Draft Framework for Sustainable Mining was recently concluded between the government, mining sector and organised labour. Its most widely known flaw is that the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the dominant union on the platinum belt, has not signed it.
Equally significant but less well known is the exclusion of organisations representing mine-affected communities. The organisation of communities into formal nationwide networks means engagement with this sector is far easier than previously. Yet their voices are still missing from negotiations.
While President Jacob Zuma said the streamlining of the mining, environmental and water licensing processes was in response to business requests, there were no corresponding examples of responsiveness to the requests of communities. While investors will now have a “one-stop departmental clearance house” to attend to complaints, communities will have no equivalent body to assist them in responding to violations of their environmental and other rights.
The disproportionate attention to the concerns of the industry and investors results in an incomplete picture of the effects of mining. For example, while mining-related environmental degradation threatens the health and livelihood of communities across SA, there was no mention of the environmental costs of mining.
This approach goes against that required by the constitution, which is founded on the values of respect for the dignity of all and the equal enjoyment of rights and freedoms. To realise this vision, the constitution enshrines the right to political participation, just administrative action, access to a basket of socioeconomic goods and to an environment not harmful to health or wellbeing. These values require a human rights-based approach to governance in which the voices of all are valued, and vulnerable citizens get particular attention.
The exclusion of communities also runs contrary to the National Development Plan, which stresses active citizenship.
Mr Zuma sought to clearly communicate that his government was sensitive to the needs of investors. However, by sidelining the needs and priorities of key stakeholders, the government is doing investors no favours because the main requirement of investors is a stable environment in which the return on their investments is secure. If affected groups are excluded from decision-making and do not see their concerns addressed, they will be more likely to seek to disrupt the system. Stability in the system requires a social contract that addresses the needs and concerns of communities, all organised labour, the government, mining companies and investors.
While the debate over jammed signals continues in Parliament, another form of signal jamming is being overlooked: the inattentiveness of the government to concerns expressed by mining community organisations.
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