Two very important events opened simultaneously yesterday in Cape Town, South Africa: One is Africa’s biggest and most attended meeting on mining, the Invest in Africa Mining Indaba, which is taking place at the International Convention Center. Over seven thousand mining industry executives, government officials and business people from all over the globe have descended on this picturesque city to figure out how to tap more into Africa’s vast mineral resources.
The other is the Alternative Mining Indaba-civil society’s response to the Mining Indaba referred to above, that is taking place less than ten kilometers from the Convention Center. Three hundred activists from 37 countries are meeting to lay strategies of slowing down the operations of mining companies in Africa so as to curtail mining’s negative impact on communities.
Two meetings talking about the same issue, but from different angles. The business executives donning custom-tailored suits, some of whom jetted into the city in private planes, would like to ‘help’ build African economies by extracting more minerals, but the activists argue that their communities are getting nothing out of mining. They want to see “natural resources work for the people” and some are even calling for mining operations to cease completely if that cannot happen.
“These companies are in Cape Town to discuss how to extract minerals to benefit a few. It is about profit, not the people,” said Rev. Malcolm Damon. “They maybe 7000 but we represent millions of our people whose lives are affected by mining.”
Rev. Damon is the chief organiser of the AMI who has worked tirelessly for the last five years to ensure the voices of South Africa’s poor and marginalised communities that live near mines are not silenced – a herculean task given the immense power wielded by mining companies in Africa.
“Let us not fool ourselves, the task before us is huge,” he reminded AMI delegates.
The atmosphere on the first day of this five day meeting was charged, with youthful representatives of mining affected communities in South Africa occasionally breaking into songs, most of which called on mining companies to be responsible. “Agenda ya ma Capitalists..”, they chorused, pointing to the perceived greed of mining companies in exploiting Africa’s mineral resources irrespective of the social cost.
Brian Kagoro gave a key-note address in which he challenged NGOs to align their advocacy with realities in mining affected communities.
“We risk being irrelevant,“ he warned. “You talk about African mining problems like a soccer match, then at the end you go home and drink cold water from the fridge while those facing the problem are drinking poisoned water from the mines.” He added, “People cannot wait any longer, it is a struggle for life and death.”
Determined to take the message to the governments and mining companies, AMI delegates marched to the Mining Indaba venue at the Convention Centre to demonstrate against the irresponsible actions of mining companies.
“Mining Mafia Stop Looting Africa.” “I am a widow because of mining.” “Effluents into Lake Malawi, Hell No!” read some of the placards carried by AMI delegates on the march.
Indaba is a South African Bantu word that means a meeting of locals to discuss an important matter. The AMI is no doubt one such meeting as the impacts of mining activities on African communities is indeed a serious issue.
So over the next four days, the AMI will seek to propose solutions to the problems that currently beset the extractives sector in Africa. African governments, many of which eat out of the palms of multi-national mining companies, should listen to the alternative proposals this time and review that long-standing agenda of the Capitalists.
Report by Chris Musiime