When mining houses overlook the interests of host communities during the planning phase of a greenfield mining project, inevitably, sooner or later, they may encounter resistance to their investment or unrealistic demands. African Mining Brief Online asks Adel Malebana, senior social scientist at SRK Consulting, about how mining companies can best engage communities at project inception.
AMBO: What would you regard as key issues that have to be prioritised when implementing community engagement, participation, facilitation of a greenfield mining project?
It is also vital to acknowledge the community’s cultural and leadership dynamics, beyond just the existing leadership structures. This means spending time to understand and accommodate the underlying community cultural dynamics and engagement protocols. Engagement methods and access to information should be inclusive and culturally appropriate, considering stakeholders’ language, literacy level and cultural protocols.
Merely speaking the local language does not on its own make an engagement practitioner an expert in local customary and traditional practices. Simply adhering to regulatory requirements and time frames is often construed as disrespectful to local and traditional customs. Hence, the engagement process should acknowledge that some communities operate on different ‘time-clocks’.
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For example, in many traditional communities, meetings can often be lengthy to give opportunities for every participant to provide their input, despite the same issue having already been discussed. This may not be ideal for consultants and developers, who work to project schedules which in most cases are tied to their deliverables and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Within these tight schedules, the risk is that community engagement is rushed, leaving some stakeholders misunderstanding the information or disgruntled. Where formal agreements have to be concluded, it is even more critical that signatories are comfortable that they have been given enough time to engage and fully understand the contents; they may also want to seek legal counsel.
From our experience, it is becoming apparent that agreements concluded between developers and previous leadership structures are being questioned by younger generations. Engagement specialists and developers must therefore ensure that their processes are transparent and well-documented, so that these questions can be answered convincingly in future. This must reflect that they did everything in their power not only to follow the letter of the law, but also to ensure cultural and political appropriateness of the day.
AMBO: Sometimes a community would have lofty expectations concerning potential benefits from a project. Is there a way this situation can be forestalled?
AM: Many projects have experienced opportunistic behaviour and unrealistic expectations from certain stakeholders or community members. On the other hand, it is unrealistic for developers to assume that communities will not have any expectations for benefits from a development. Word-of-mouth is still a common way of communicating within traditional communities, which can often lead to conflicting messages, especially with regards to potential opportunities. It is therefore important to understand community networks and role players, and to develop key messages at the outset of the project. These key messages should be developed with this understanding and context that manages expectations from early on in the process.
AMBO: Are there any particular acts that you foresee potentially affecting how Community Engagement, Participation, Facilitation of a Greenfield mining projects are implemented?
AM: In the current South African legislative context, the Constitution of South Africa (Act No. 108 of 1996) is the overarching supreme law of the country. It provides the legal foundation for the existence of the Republic, sets out the rights and duties of its citizens, and defines the structure of the government.
With regards to engagement, the Constitution highlights the environmental rights (section 24) to secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, while promoting economic and social development. The access to information clause (section 32) maintains that everyone has the right of access to information held by the state, as well as any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights. National legislation, notably, the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (PAIA) gives effect to this constitutional right.
In terms of current mining and environmental management legislation, the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (No. 28 of 2002) considers the social impacts of mining activities on the surrounding socio-economic environment, affected individuals and communities. To avoid socio-economic marginalisation by mining companies, the Act requires mining companies to develop and implement a Social and Labour Plan (SLP), which focuses on promoting the long-term development of their workforces, employee households, communities and regions.
In addition, the National Environmental Management Act (No. 107 of 1998) requires that “environmental management must place people and their needs at the forefront of its concern, and serve their physical, psychological, developmental, cultural and social interests equitably”.
AMBO: Has the growing phenomenal of resources nationalism impacted on the way contemporary community engagement, participation and facilitation are carried out?
AM: Over the years, laws have changed to favour previously disadvantaged communities and individuals, and communities are becoming more aware of these laws and the impact they have. However, in the context of resource nationalism, engagement has not yet been tested in South Africa, because the concept is still under discussion. Observations indicate that since the subject was tabled, engagement has become complicated. This is due to a perceived entitlement and ownership mentality by some community stakeholders. Engagement should therefore be adapted to take into consideration changing stakeholder behaviour and expectations that could emanate from potential changes in legislation.