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Faith groups seek socially responsible southern African mines

Faith groups in southern Africa have condemned irresponsible mining practices by corporations they say have claimed lives, damaged the environment and impoverished communities. 

"Africa is poor because of its rich resources … This blessing must not became a curse to its people," said Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, the former Cape Town Anglican diocese head.

He was speaking at the opening of the Alternative Mining Indaba, a parallel event to the annual International Mining Indaba running from 1 to 4 February, two streets away. The Mining Indaba attracts mining analysts, fund managers, investment specialists and financiers from around the world.

The alternative event is entitled "Poverty and extractive industries: Why are we in poverty when we own mineral resources?" At its meeting, the Economic Justice Network said multinational corporations are continuing to hide behind business contracts that undermine human dignity.

Ndungane, a social justice activist connected to Africa Monitor, a pan-African non-profit organisation, said that despite the abundance of minerals in Africa, citizens of the 15 nations of the Southern African Development Community are among the poorest in the world.

"Human rights are being grossly undermined because of the need for profit," said the archbishop. "Irresponsible practices must not be allowed to continue, not on our watch."

The Rev. Malcolm Damon, executive director of EJN, a fellowship of Southern African Christian councils, told Ecumenical News International that the Alternative Mining Indaba is trying to give a voice to long-suffering communities, and to warn mining companies, "We are watching you".

"The bitterness lies in mining taking place in local communities, yet, it excludes the welfare of people who live there," said, Tembela Njenga, director of Ecumenical Services for Socio-Economic Transformation.

Representatives of rural communities affected by more than 40 years of mining, at Rustenberg and in South Africa’s Limpopo province, shared complaints of inadequate housing, pollution, abandoned bursary projects, overcrowding and the prevalence of HIV and AIDS.

Percy Makombe, EJN programmes manager, said it is ludicrous that small communities should have to seek justice from conglomerates. "In most cases they are met with police brutality," he said.

However, the Rev. Suzanne Natale, general secretary of the 22-member Christian Council of Zambia, was one church leader upbeat about the response to pressure put on the government to respond to ill treatment of local communities in mining areas.

"The problem always comes when multinationals are involved. They pay our workers low wages and they want tax breaks. We are [currently] pushing for mining companies to publish what they pay and they should bank all their money in Zambia," said Natale.

(c) Ecumenical News International