CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Feb 18 (IPS) – “Comrades, we have arrived. This cherry is eight years awaited. We have made it to this place,” Bishop Jo Seoka told the crowd, pausing to allow for the whistles and cheers.
A delegate from the Alternative Mining Indaba dances during a protest march on Feb. 8, 2017. About 450 representatives of civil society mining-affected communities attended the conference in Cape Town.
Seoka, the chairman of a South African NGO called the Bench Marks Foundation, presided over the crowd of protesters that was busy verbally releasing years of frustration at the continent’s mining industry. The protest on Feb. 8 was part of the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) held in Cape Town.
The annual gathering brings together residents of mining-affected communities and civil society representatives to discuss common problems caused by the mining industry in Africa. On its third and final day, the AMI took to the streets to deliver its declaration of demands to industry and government representatives.
While police temporarily blocked the march from reaching the convention center hosting the Mining Indaba, the industry’s counterpart to the AMI, protesters were angry after years of having their side of the story largely ignored.
They marched up to the line of police and private security guarding the doors to the conference hall and demanded to speak with members of the Mining Indaba.
“As citizens and representations (sic) citizen-organisations we wish to express our willingness to work with African governments and other stakeholders in the quest to harness the continent’s vast extractive resources to underpin Africa’s socio-economic transformation and the lays a foundation for this,” the declaration stated.
“I very much appreciate the willingness to engage in dialogue, and I think this is the first step towards establishing a common vision,” Tom Butler, CEO of the International Council on Mining & Metals, told the crowd before signing receipt of the declaration and handing it over for the managing director of the Mining Indaba to also sign.Alternative Mining Indaba participants dance and sing struggle songs during their march on Feb. 8, 2017.
Individual countries have begun holding their own alternative indabas, with South Africa’s first country-specific conference held this year in Johannesburg.
While Butler came to the AMI to give a presentation on the mining industry’s behalf, few other members of government or the industry made an attempt to engage with the AMI. The Mining Indaba’s Twitter account even blocked some AMI delegates who took to social media to air their grievances.
The official Mining Indaba is a place for mining ministers, CEOs of mining houses and other industry representatives to network and strike deals. During the event, South Africa and Japan, for example, signed a bilateral agreement to boost collaboration along the mining value chain.
“This Indaba has affirmed South Africa’s status as a preferred investment destination,” Mosebenzi Zwane, the country’s minerals minister, said in a statement following the event.
“As government, we are heartened by this and recommit to ensuring the necessary regulatory and policy certainty to attract even more investment into our country.”
In his opening address at the Mining Indaba, Zwane also announced that the draft of the new Mining Charter, a document guiding the country’s mining industry, would be published in March.
The AMI, however, was born as a community-level response to the fact that such decisions are usually made without consulting those most impacted by mining.
“They are going to find this huddled mass of people,” Mandla Hadebe, one of the event organizers, said of the protest’s goals in the first year. Only 40 delegates were present.An Alternative Mining Indaba delegate from Swaziland sings protest songs. There was a feeling of triumph among the delegates after achieving even a degree of acknowledgement from industry representatives.
In its eighth year, the AMI has grown to about 450 participants representing 43 countries. Delegates came from across Africa – from Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi – as well as the rest of the world – from Cambodia to Bolivia and Australia – to share their stories.
“It just shows that our struggles are common and that we’ve decided to unite for a common purpose,” Hadebe said of the growth. “We want transparency, we want accountability and, most importantly, we want participation of the people affected by mining.”
A number of panels dedicated to community voices gave activists a platform to share their stories and methods of resistance. Translators in the various conference rooms translated among English, French and Portuguese, a necessity as well as a tacit nod to the ever-present effects of the same colonialism that brought mining.”What we heard first were promises,” a woman from Peru recounted.