Community activists who oppose mining projects in South Africa live in constant fear as they are often harassed, threatened and sometimes killed, a group of human rights advocates says.
In a joint report and video released on Tuesday, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch say locals who mobilize to raise concerns about potential environmental and health risks arising from mining and coal-fired power plants have reported intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests and arbitrary arrest.
Community activists opposed to mining face violence, intimidation, as well as legal and bureaucratic hurdles while trying to express their rights — report
South Africa has one of the world’s biggest and oldest mining industries. The country is a top producer of platinum, palladium, and it also has significant gold and coal operations.
All those activities tend to trigger divided positions. While mining operations and projects bring jobs and other opportunities to locals, they often also clash with locals because of the impact they have on land use ranging from traditional burial grounds to grazing land.
Municipalities frequently block attempts by communities to protest against projects by using reasons that have no basis in law, the 74-page report entitled “We Know Our Lives Are in Danger” contends. Peaceful demonstrations are repeatedly violently broken up by police, it reads.
The joint report documents threats and attacks in four provinces between 2013 and 2018, acknowledging that their origins were often unknown. Activists, however, believe they were instigated by the police, government officials, private security companies or other groups acting on behalf of mining companies.
Hoping to find their own answers, the authors conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police, and municipal officials. They also wrote to government agencies and several mining companies with a presence in the research areas.
Four out of eleven companies responded, the report shows. The Minerals Council of South Africa, representing 77 mining companies, also replied, noting it was “not aware of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where [its] members operate.”
Mining companies also have concerns of their own. Canada’s Fraser Institute ranks South Africa as the tenth-worst country in the world in which to own mining interests, out of 91 mining nations.
Most miners report that regulatory uncertainty, the taxation regime, labour relations and employment law, and political instability are deterrents to investment in the sector.