Mining companies and local communities: the balance of give and take

Mathew Nyaungwa

Most mining companies often clash with the local communities whenever they intend to establish a new mine that leads to their relocation. 

Some fights are due to potential environmental challenges such as the contamination of rivers or the suffering of humans and livestock due to the effects of mercury and cyanide.

Some communities are also complaining of air and noise pollution due to mining operations in their areas.

In the United States, Nevada Gold Mines, which operates Long Canyon, clashed with the native people last April who claimed that the company’s plans to pump billions of gallons of underground water would disrupt natural flows to Johnson Springs Wetlands Complex, a network of 88 springs, and potentially harm species like the Relict Dace fish.

The natives also said that the mine operator’s plan to replenish groundwater by leaching it back from surface ponds is inadequate because the returned water will not be as pure as water that flows naturally from the deep, carbonate aquifer.

That is the deepest water, way down there,” RGJ quoted Rupert Steele, chairman of the Confederate Tribes of the Goshute Reservation as saying.

That is why it is [really] pure when it comes out from under the mountains, that is where we get our ceremonial water.”

It’s not the tribe’s first clash with the mining company as they opposed the development of Long Canyon’s first phase, which opened in 2016.

They said the mining company and Bureau of Land Management had downplayed their concerns in a rush to develop the project.

The tribe said the construction of the mine in the heart of the aboriginal territory destroyed or displaced countless artefacts and ruined a landscape that was important for historical and spiritual reasons.

Last month, four gunmen shot and killed anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase in her home in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.

Roving Reporters reported that the murder points to escalating pressure on communities across South Africa to accept environmentally damaging mining operations on their land.

Ntshangase led the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), which is taking legal action to prevent the expansion of an open-cast coal mine at Somkhele, on the southeastern border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park.

The organization also alleged that the mine’s existing operations should be stopped as they are not compliant with environmental and other laws.

However, the mine owners, Tendele Coal Mine, argued that they were operating lawfully, and expansion is necessary to keep the mine viable and protect 1,600 direct jobs and hundreds of indirect jobs in this impoverished part of the country.

A study focused on South Africa, which was launched during the Mining Indaba in Cape Town last February showed that 79% of respondents said they had not benefited from their local mine at all.

In Zimbabwe, thousands of villagers around Marange diamond fields protested the alleged looting of diamond revenue in April 2018.

Human Rights Watch reported that following years of alleged diamond revenue looting by state-owned companies, with no benefits to the local communities, the villagers’ patience was wearing thin.

Centre for Natural Resource Governance petitioned the Parliament of Zimbabwe in March 2018 to “ensure diamond mining contributes to the development of the health, educational and road infrastructure of the Marange community, especially areas affected by diamond mining.

Not all gloom and doom

Some companies are operating in perfect harmony with the local communities and this was evident earlier this year as they stepped up to alleviate the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in southern Africa.

Diamond giant, De Beers donated $2,5 million to Botswana and Namibia last April to support community leaders, healthcare professionals, and the host governments.

Anglo American and its subsidiary, De Beers also donated $2 million last April to South Africa’s Solidarity Fund that exists specifically to help address the impacts of COVID-19. 

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Source Rough&Polished