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On blind spots and losing one’s vision

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 14:10

During December 2016 I lost my vision. Perhaps it happened slowly and unnoticed prior to that December morning when I woke up with darkness shrouding my left eye and my right eye not quite able to focus as well as it did the day before. Perhaps I should have taken the symptoms experienced for several months leading up to that December morning more seriously instead of just chucking them in the basket of “too many long hours in front of computer screen, too many long-distance flights, not enough sleep”. Perhaps...

I can’t help but to draw parallels with sustainability issues that companies face as I reflect on my 2017 journey, which included not being allowed to travel and several eye operations, each operation bringing with it the hope that miraculously through the application of the latest medical science, the sight in my left eye will be restored.  Too often companies ignore the symptoms or the signs that something is amiss and too often it is only when there is an outcry, or a strike, or an outbreak of violence, that the issues are addressed. Like I did, many companies undergo several ‘operations’ to address the symptoms, using a variety of consultants to address the problems; and I am sure that like I sometimes wished I could gauge out my left eye and start from scratch, many companies wish they could start from scratch. Unfortunately that is not possible and one is forced to deal with the situation at hand in the best manner possible to yield the best possible result. 

Unfortunately my left eye remains unusable, but in the past four months I have put in an enormous effort in adapting and re-learning how to cope with those unexpected issues that appear when one (suddenly) only has one functioning eye, including discovering that one has no depth perception and if one does not want to stumble down slopes and stairs, one must learn other ways to deal with such limitations. And similarly companies can learn new skills and adjust to different ways of dealing with sustainability issues and even if the damage cannot be reversed, the application of the correct mitigation can result in an outcome that could be just as valuable as reversing the damage, and sometimes the outcome can be even more sustainable than the original state of affairs. All that is required is the will to do it and a corporate culture that is not tone deaf and one that is willing to embrace change.

Blind spots also plagued my beleaguered vision for a while. And when I read the following Facebook post late last year by a renowned and well-respected South African human rights lawyer, it made me think of how often we have blind spots when it comes to issues of power, patriarchy and institutional racism:

“I recognize the delicacy of the matter, but really.

Imagine I got very drunk in a hotel room with two female colleagues. Thus uninhibited and uninvited I undressed and masturbated in front of them.

In the sober light of day, I would be so ashamed and embarrassed I would be forced to emigrate.

Their scorn and laughter and that of their friends would be too much to bear.

Now imagine I was sober, I would not even have the excuse of drunkenness, I would be obliged to kill myself.

Louis C.K. is the person who comes across as a total doos. The women who were the witnesses to his shameful conduct as those who are doing the shaming.

I don’t understand the narrative of the spectators to his embarrassing and utterly inappropriate behavior as his victims.”

 

This professional works in the human rights arena in a country plagued with inequality, misogyny and racism, and yet appears not to understand (or perhaps he is unable to acknowledge?) the power relations that exist in industries, whether in Hollywood or at the Mining Indaba or on Capitol Hill.  Not to mention the victim blaming that is implicit (at least in my opinion) in his post.  If development and human rights professionals have such significant blind spots, what hope is there? And how does one address the situation? 

A medical procedure and several different eye-drops inserted several times a day for several weeks effectively dealt with my blind spots, and thus I would imagine that awareness-raising, calling out by others, and serious self-reflection would be a good start when it comes to addressing blind spots in the development fraternity. And as I had to unlearn and re-imagine my habits in order to adapt to my altered vision, whether when driving, walking or reading, hope rests on the belief that as development and human rights professionals we can also unlearn old habits and re-imagine what the world would be like without the blind spots that allow for patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and racism to continue.  We, who find ourselves in this position of building careers on the back of the poor, the vulnerable and the oppressed, should certainly lead the charge to affect real change and to obliterate these blind spots.

After 11 months off field work, I returned to work full-steam and with enthusiasm a few weeks ago.  I have learned that an old dog can indeed learn new tricks, and that I have the ability to adjust and be even better at most tasks than before I lost the vision in my left eye, mainly because (I think) I am now acutely aware of the blessings that come with one’s ability to see, hear, smell, walk, talk, jump, run and apply one’s mind. And also because I needed to prove to myself that I can indeed still be an asset to society and hopefully be a catalyst for change in the future. 

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on 23 June 2017:

 This Facebook post from June 20th, 2017 made its way into my inbox this morning:

“When I do Stakeholder Engagement training, one of the sections is on the use of technical language when communicating with stakeholders. The easiest example we use is when technical people talk of the underground "aquifer" to non-technical audiences. We suggest they call it an underground body of water or lake instead. The hon mayor of Cape Town just told the nation on television that there is an "equifire" below Table Mountain and another "equifire" underneath the Theewaterskloof dam. My work here on earth is not yet done.”

The person who forwarded it to me wanted to know what I thought of it considering that the post's author is someone who describes themselves as a ‘public participation specialist’ and who works primarily as a stakeholder engagement trainer in South Africa and other African countries.

The contents of the post raises several different issues that one could ruminate on, for example the reason for the terrible drought that has Cape Town and the western regions of South Africa in its grip, the reckless wastage of water that has brought the area to its knees, climate change, and so forth; but it is the shaming of an accent that jumps out the most at me, and which I find the most offensive, specifically in the light that the author is training companies on how to engage with their stakeholders on a population diverse continent. Whilst the post starts off quite reasonably it degenerates into making fun of Ms Patricia de Lille, the mayor of Cape Town’s, accent. From the post is clear that Ms de Lille understands what an aquifer is, and she uses the term correctly, thus the first three sentences of the post does not link in any meaningful way to the last two sentences, except to display the author’s prejudice. What stands out very clearly is that the author assumes, despite evidence to the contrary, that Ms de Lille does not know what an aquifer is just because she does not pronounce it in the same way the author does, or what the author expects to be a ‘correct’ or ‘proper’ pronunciation.  

This type of accent shaming is rife in South Africa, especially if the person whose accent is deemed to be unacceptable is not white, but I have also heard Eastern Europeans degraded because they speak ‘funny’ and thus assumed to be ignorant. This despite the fact that the speaker is fluent in English. It is of course not without irony that one must point out that these persons engaging in shaming do not speak any indigenous languages, except perhaps Afrikaans. Perhaps if they did, they might understand that one’s accent does not correlate with one’s intelligence, level of education nor level of knowledge.

Those of us who claim to be stakeholder engagement practitioners, and those of us who also train others to engage with stakeholders, should be hyper-aware of our own prejudices. This is especially important when we work in countries with a diverse population, such as South Africa, where there is not one common ‘accent’; and in countries where our clients will most likely not be a local company but rather a foreign entity trying to deal with local customs, cultures, norms and accents. We should reflect on how our own prejudices and beliefs can be transferred through our training and how it can really befuddle our clients and students’ efforts after we leave.  

Mine Community Trusts - who benefits?

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 13:15

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on 19 June 2017:

The Mining Charter (June 2017) makes reference to the need for mine communities to be awarded shares. Whether or not this version of the charter passes the legal challenges it will no doubt face in coming weeks and months, it cannot be disputed that community development for mine-affected communities, whether through a mechanism of share ownership or not, is vital. However, the proposal that the communities’ share be held in trust, raises concerns. One wonders how this will differ from the funds currently held in trusts for mine-affected communities, and more importantly whether the communities will actually have a say in the matters related to their trusts and who will ultimately benefit from these trusts.

Just recently I brought up the topic of mine community trusts for a prominent South African gold mining company’s affected communities at the company’s AGM. It was not a matter that was brought into the AGM sphere out of the blue, I had been asking questions, as a shareholder, about these trusts since October 2016. Responses from the CEO and EVP Sustainable Development had been vague, promising to investigate, and in March 2017 I was referred to the trust administrator, whose responses have been even vaguer bordering on non-existent. Responses at the AGM from the company’s chairperson, a prominent political and community activist, and the chairperson of the social & ethics committee were quite defensive, claiming that the trusts are set up as independent and that the company has no control over what happens. “What bollocks!” one is tempted to say out loud. If the trusts are independent, administered by an administrator and governed by trustees who have no connection to the community, who is keeping an eye on things? The situation with these trusts are that the community members (both under the shadow of the headgear and from labour sending areas) are not represented anywhere, not in its administration nor in its governance, and the company who formed these trusts now claim they have no control over the trusts and the outcomes as the trusts are independent entities. So one wonders who has control over the trusts? The predominantly white Johannesburg legal firm that is appointed as the administrator? The white consultant, not from the area, who has been appointed to deal with some of the community issues? The trustees who are not from the area and not representative of the beneficiaries? How would anyone, whether a community member or a company shareholder, know what is really going on?

The basic questions which have not been answered by the company’s board (despite promises at the AGM to do so), senior management or the trust administrator are:

1)     Are there any annual or quarterly non-financial reports that is available to be scrutinized by community members? If so, how do they access these?

2)     What are the amounts spent thus far on host community projects, what are the amounts spent thus far on labour sending community projects? What amount spent on administration and trustee fees to date?

3)     What sum of money is reserved for this current year for host community projects, and what sum of money is reserved for labour sending community projects?

4)     What infrastructure projects are implemented via the community trusts in host community as well as in labour sending areas?

5)     How do ex-mine workers directly benefit from these trusts?

6)     Community members felt that the education trust could be used to also upskill ex-mine workers instead of concentrating only on the youth and bursaries. Linked to (6) above, is this being addressed? And if so, how?

7)     Why are community members not represented on the management of the trust, i.e. as trustees?

8)     How often are there meetings with communities discussing the affairs of their trusts, both in host communities and in labour sending communities? Do the trustees allow members of the communities to be present at trustee meetings? What access do community members have to trustees and to the administrator if they have queries?

9)     What are the criteria used for selecting projects when considering proposals from local community organizations? How many such projects have been approved and what is their nature?

If this is how a company that claims to be a responsible corporate citizen handles the trusts created for the development of its affected communities, one shudders to think how future trusts will be handled. 

When bending the rules kills us

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 13:11

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on 22 May 2017:

I recently had a discussion with a CEO of a South African mining company about fatalities in one of the company’s mines. He mentioned that compared to the death-toll on the South African roads, fatalities in underground mines in SA are relatively low. He was referring to the condition of the country’s roads and the behaviour of drivers using the roads, both can vary from good to exceptionally poor, but both generally hovers around the ‘can-be-vastly-improved’ point. Whether he is right or wrong in his comparison of the two is rather moot when one considers that the underlying cause for the death rate for both is human behaviour and action. 

A New York Times article about the death of two UN contract workers in the DRC and the disappearance of four more in March 2017, made me revisit my brief conversation with the CEO and made me think of safety violations in the workplace, whether that workplace is in an office in London, Sandton or New York, or deep in the bowels of the earth in an underground mine, or on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean, or in the war-torn jungles of the world. What makes us as human beings disregard safety regulations and protocol that are put in place for our protection? While there could be incidents where safety violations and non-compliance are deliberate, perhaps as acts of sabotage, there is of course also what is known in South African mining as planisa. Planisa is a Fanakalo word, which refers to “making a plan”, particularly when deep down in the mine. Fanakalo is (was?) the lingua franca based on English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu, used in South Africa, particularly in the mines.  Planisa implores minors to tackle the day-to-day problems underground with skills and ingenuity to unblock the bottlenecks that prevent production targets from being reached. When there is no (or very little) correlation between the safety regulations and protocols in the workplace and the output required from the worker, violations become the normal methods of working, often leading to incidents and fatalities. I don’t think any worker would want to be injured or perish, but most of these incidents stem from a genuine desire to perform work satisfactorily despite the constraints and the expectations that exist in the specific workplace. And it is this desire which kills so many in our mines, factories and which also killed the two UN experts, who ignored the UN security rules, no doubt believing that they would be safe and that it is the only way to get the job done efficiently. 

So how does one temper the human tendency to planisa and in the process break safety rules? Is it to hold the supervisors accountable, as the mining company did following the fatalities? Or is it to improve supervision, management and culture? Is it to conduct an audit and to understand the factors that may increase violations? Is it to provide workers the tools they require to produce the output required? Is it all of the above? I don’t know, but what I know for sure is that human beings will always bend the rules when they think they won’t be caught and/or if they think there is no real danger to the activity.  

 
 

Dignity, Sanitation and a Lack of Water

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 13:06

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 13 June 2016:

"No dignity has been restored through giving people houses which are not in good condition‚ first‚ and second‚ they don’t have a flushing toilet" – Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), at The Gathering on 10 June 2016.

These words sent a chill down my spine, similar to when there is war talk and a call to violence so shortly before an election.  Of course I agree with Mr Malema that people need to be provided with adequate housing, particularly as the money to build those houses come from taxes.  Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses must be built optimally and to last.  Nor do I have a problem with the provision of adequate sanitation.  The lack of access to sanitation has an impact on other basic rights including rights to dignity, education, health, safety and the environment.  Open defecation, bucket toilets and poorly constructed pit latrines remain an immense problem in South Africa.  I am not at all blind to the fact that those areas in South Africa which lack adequate sanitation, mirror Apartheid spatial geography: pre-dominantly black and poverty-stricken townships and former homelands, as well as informal settlements. Nor am I blind to the fact that the lack of adequate sanitation affect the most disadvantaged in society, with a disproportionate negative impact on vulnerable groups, such as women, children and people living with disabilities; and that the lack of adequate sanitation is the point where inequalities between different social groups are starkly evident.  Nor am I blind to the fact that these very social groupings are by the most part the EFF’s constituents. 

What left me ice cold was the reference to “flush toilets”.  South Africa is a water scarce country, which is currently gripped in a paralyzing drought, with many towns already run dry.  This big thirst gripping the country now, is bound to continue even when the rains return.  Currently about 98% of South Africa’s available water resources are already allocated across various sectors, and scientists warn that continued population and economic growth, combined with climate change, could result in a water deficit of between 2% and 13% by 2025 (a mere nine years away).  In some parts of the country there is currently not enough water available to meet the needs of citizens, agriculture and industry, and to sustain the country’s ecological baseline.

A further problem is that while South Africa boasts a system providing access to some of the cleanest water in the world, the available infrastructure for the delivery of water and sanitation is either lacking completely in some areas, or in other areas, in a poor state due to the age of the infrastructure and lack of adequate maintenance and management of existing systems.  More and more residents are complaining about the quality of the water coming from taps due to the poor condition of waste and water treatment plants.  The water crises is affecting millions; the sanitation crises, millions more.  How often does one walk through a township or an informal settlement and see raw sewage pouring into streets?  Quite often; and this has severe health implications for the affected communities and as we know, such communities often have limited, if any, access to adequate health care as well.

It is not in dispute that adequate and decent sanitation is a basic human right enshrined in the South African Constitution, and that it is essential for dignity and good health, but must it be water-borne sanitation in a country where we have limited infrastructure and water resources?  Why do we not aim for sustainable sanitation?

As water becomes scarcer, and the infrastructure needs to be repaired or rebuilt, so also will the costs of water increase steadily.  While Mr Malema would prefer that no poor person pay for essential services such as water, it is a bit of a pipe dream, because money is required to provide services and run efficient local governments.  Even with complete and radical wealth re-distribution (another pipe dream at this time), at some stage residents must pay for services delivered, otherwise the system will collapse.  Already the South African government provides, where there is infrastructure, 6000 litres of water and 50 kWh electricity free per household per month.  And where does that water go?  A 2005 study found that most of that water in low-income households is flushed down the toilet.

Water Use in Households (2005)

Low-income households:  

Toilets = 73%

Baths & Showers = 19%

Washing machine = NA

Other (cooking, washing dishes and clothes, drinking, etc) = 8%

Mid to High-Income Household

Toilets = 37%

Baths & Showers = 32%

Washing machine = 17%

Other: eg. cooking, washing dishes and clothes, drinking, etc = 14%

 (Source: Water – How is it used at home, HE Jacobs, LC Geustyn and BF Loubser, 2005)

Isn’t it time that we provide South Africans the option of urine-diverting dry toilets (or similar technology), which falls under the basic sanitation options provided for in the constitutional rights?  Why are these toilets not automatically included in RDP houses?  If we can include solar water heaters in RDP houses, certainly it is just a short step further to also equip these houses with this acceptable, sustainable, affordable sanitation option?

Why are we gambling with our country’s survival (yes, because without water we are all doomed) by demanding for unsustainable sanitation options?  It is certainly not too much to ask of responsible politicians to choose their words more carefully and to think a little bit further than the next five years?

 
 

Human Rights and the Private Security Industry

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 12:48

This article was originally posted in LinkedIn on 24 May 2016:

In recent days I have been thinking a lot about human rights assessments in the extractive industry, but more and more about human rights in general and how it applies to my life, personal and professional. 

While cognisant that through regular assessments of human rights impacts, multi-national companies proactively shape a strategic approach to human rights, based on relevant risks and opportunities both within the company and along their supply chain; in recent days I have been thinking about how human rights play a role specifically in smaller companies and SMEs and in their supply chain.  In particular, I am thinking of the human rights infringement risks involved in private security for home owners associations.  In South Africa, home owners associations (HOA) generally refers to a number of houses grouped together in a walled-in complex, and the association operates as a company.  All HOAs contract private security firms.

As housing complexes mushroom all over the country – one would be hard-pressed to find any new suburb in any of the big cities that still caters for the large plot with one individual household on it – so does the private security industry.  Every company, whether a large multi-national, an SME, or a home owners association, has the responsibility to treat all human beings with respect and dignity.  Operating without infringing on human rights is one of society’s baseline expectations of business, it is an ethical imperative.

While in my professional life, the assessment of a company’s policies and operations through a human rights lens has become nearly second nature, and so has integrating human rights principles and human rights into any social impact assessment I undertake; in my private life, it has been an uphill battle.  When I bought my current house in 2013, I automatically became a member/shareholder of the home owners association.  During the first few months in my new home, I noticed that the security guards, who are supposed to guard me and my property, never appear to have any days off and that their work station was a very unpleasant and messy area.  

Upon investigation, it turned out that the company for which they worked, although duly registered with all the correct authorities, followed none of the laws and any complaints I lodged with the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) were acknowledged but no action was ever taken.  My next stop was the HOA to enquire why we, as the company contracting the security firm, were not taking any action against the company for human rights (and other) infringements.  “It is not our problem how they treat their employees”, was the answer I received from the HOA Board of Directors.  No amount of pointing out the risks involved in having security guards who are working like slaves, who are sleep-deprived and who are not paid as per government regulation, made any difference.  The only option left was to get nominated and voted on to the board myself and to address this matter from day one.

The initial approach was to work with the service provider to change their ways and follow the law: appoint a third guard to allow the guards (who had been working six days a week 12 hour shifts and on the seventh day, a 24 hour shift with no break for several years) their government-regulated time off, their salaries to be in line with legislated minimum wages, giving them contracts, payslips, etc.  As an HOA we renovated the guard house to improve the working conditions further and also started to supply the guards consumables in the form of coffee, tea, toilet paper, first aid supplies, etc., which had not been provided before.  Initially it appeared as if this approach worked and the service provider was working hard at being a responsible employer.  Unfortunately it did not last long and soon the service provider was back to their old ways.  The HOA had no choice but to sever all ties with the service provider.  That was the easy part.  Replacing them with a responsible private security company proved infinitely more difficult than was anticipated.

It appeared that the norm in the South African private security industry was what we had just experienced.  We combed through about 15 proposals, quotes and visits by potential service providers.  Due diligence from our part indicated that none of them adhered to the laws and human rights were seen as something that had nothing to do with them.  They all treated their employees as slaves who should be grateful for the jobs given to them.  It was by a pure stroke of luck that we stumbled upon our current service provider.  They appeared on paper to do the right thing, even has a CSR programme.  They have a close relationship with the police and are well regarded in the sector, yet small enough to be interested in us as a client. 

But even this new service provider needs to be kept on their toes.  Even they tried to slip in a 24 hour shift in the first few weeks – we sent them a letter that indicated in no uncertain terms that we will not allow this on our property – and in September (when salaries are increased) we checked to make sure that salaries have been increased as per legislation, and after the first year of the contract, we asked them for a leave schedule for the guards.  It is obviously not ideal that we, as the client, need to do this to ensure that they obey the law and obey human rights principles, but just like big companies are obligated (at least ethically) to be aware of the possible human rights infringements in their supply chain, so should small companies and home owners associations. 

Monitoring the supply chain should be an imperative because human rights is everyone’s right but also everyone’s responsibility.

 

Adventures in Local Content

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 12:45

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 28 March 2016:

As a community development specialist working with the extractive industry in developing countries, I am very pro-“local content” and often force my clients to include sourcing from local companies as a non-negotiable site or company policy.  Thus, when I needed some golf shirts for a commemorative event in Ghana, I knocked on the door of local suppliers, in particular one who produced shirts for a fundraising event in February 2015.  For that event, he produced the shirts successfully but a nail-biting mere six hours before we needed to distribute them, blaming “dum-sor” (frequent disruptions in electricity supply in Accra) for the delay.  We understood the problems that caused the delay in production, and therefore asked him this year (which has far less electricity interruptions than last year) to please provide us with a quote and a design for the shirts.  After two weeks, he returned with an outrageous quote, but wanting to do the right thing and source locally, we asked for a design to be sent to us ASAP.  One week passed and another and we were fast running out of time, so I decided that we could not possibly wait for him to get back to us.  (And as I am writing this two days before the event, we still have not received the designs....) Considering that there were less than 10 days available for production of the shirts, and these 10 days included the long Easter weekend, he would never be able to produce the shirts on time.  What to do?

Well, the main sponsor for our nature conservation project is a South African company.  Certainly it is still acceptable “local content” if I procure the shirts in South Africa?  Yes, I argued, the lesser of two evils – the main evil being production of shirts on another continent….  The t-shirt company in SA is fast, within a few minutes I receive a quote (half of the price quoted in Ghana), a design and a promise of it all being ready within a day or so.  My heart sang.  All is under control.  Local content is the winner here.

In South Africa, I go to collect the shirts.  As I pick them up to inspect them, I notice to my utter horror that these shirts were made in China…. “China?!” I shriek at the owner, “Why not South African made?”  “Sorry, we don’t source from South Africa.  But at least the embroidery was done here.”  Small mercies that we are grateful for one day before the Easter weekend starts and there is no time to do anything about it, but to learn two valuable lessons for the future:

1) Always check where any product is produced despite where it is actually purchased;

2) Give local companies at least one month lead time to produce quotes and designs and another month or two for production.

The worst of it all: I was expecting cotton shirts, instead I got polyester….

This article was first published on LinkedIn on 29 February 2016:

I read with interest the article published on Friday, 26th February 2016, by Miningmx.com, referring to the Implats CEO, Terance Goodlace’s, take on the link between safety in South African mines and the risk-taking psyche of the average South African.  He further links it to a “growing social disobedience” which, according to him had “weakened our collective social values and our safety compliance system”.   While I agree with Mr Goodlace that South Africans are risk takers, who as a nation frequently puts safety on the back burner or even more frequently, remove it completely off the stove, I do not agree that this phenomenon is a recent event. 

I am reminded of the Head of Safety and Sustainable Development at the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, Dr Sizwe Phakathi’s, 2012 paper that deals with the culture of planisa in mines, titled:   “Getting on and getting by underground. Gold miners’ informal working practice of making a plan (planisa)”

Although Dr Phakathi’s paper deals only with gold mines, I consider it to be the norm in most mines, irrespective of the product mined.  Planisa is a Fanakalo word, which refers to “making a plan”, particularly when deep down in the mine.  Fanakalo is (was?) the lingua franca based on English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu, used in South Africa, particularly in the mines.  (I wonder if it still is the lingua franca in the mines because in recent years some South African mining companies have banned the use of Fanakalo on site.)  Planisa implores minors to tackle the day-to-day problems underground with skills and ingenuity to unblock the bottlenecks that prevent production targets from being reached.  According to Dr Phakathi, and as it is also clearly portrayed in Greg Marinovich’s “Murder at Small Koppie.  The real story of the Marikana Massacre”, workers learn (and are also required to do so for their own survival) to “read” and anticipate changing conditions in the immediate geological environment in order to work safely while at the same time responding to production demands.  The conditions underground, plus whatever organisational constraints and inefficiencies that might exist, force the underground workers to improvise and planisain order to meet production targets.

I quote directly from Dr Phakathi’s paper in which he states (and he in turn refers to studies as old as 1954):  “In the context of underground mining operations, especially in the area of worker safety, complying with formal rules and regulations is not always adequate. The ability of miners to detect and predict dangers on the basis of their beliefs, normative prescriptions and tacit knowledge, highlights not only the limitations but also the existence of official safety rules side-by-side with unofficial safety rules in the underground mining workplace”.   Dr Phakathi further lists a number of factors that compel miners to planisa, which include mechanical breakdowns, production pressure, production bonuses and the imposition of standards.  By making a plan, miners insure that production delays are avoided, production bonuses can be earned, and if there isn’t an accident (fatal or otherwise), they earn the praise of their shift-bosses and mine captains. 

Although I agree with Mr Goodlace’s comment about the recklessness that pervades South African society, I would say it is nothing new, and has been encouraged for many decades, also in mines.  In order to really address safety in mines, we would need to take everything into account, most of all entrenched human behaviour, which will not disappear with the implementation of standards, whether safety or any other, not while the rest of the conditions in the mines remain the same.  And until the rest of the conditions change, workers will continue to planisa and fatal accidents will continue to happen.

 
 

Participatory Methods in Community Development

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 12:32

This post was originally posted on LinkedIn on 26 October 2015:

I find myself in Bangkok, participating in an UNDP-IDEAS collaboration conference on Monitoring and Evaluation of Development Programmes.  As a community development practitioner for many years - for the first part of my career in the government and aid sector, and more recently in the extractive industry - I was very keen to participate in a workshop on participatory evaluation methods presented today.   I hoped to learn a lot and so to share this acquired knowledge with my colleagues in the extractive industry.  Also, on Wednesday, I am presenting my experience in monitoring and evaluation of community development/investment projects implemented by the extractive industry in (primarily) West and East Africa. 

During the preparation of my paper and presentation for Wednesday's session, I was quite critical of the extractive industry, believing that we, as an industry, lag behind the state and civil society when it comes to engaging directly with the beneficiaries of community development /investment projects.  My believe was that we do not engage enough, and that we do not always put the people's voices centre to decisions made on their behalf, nor do we ask them directly about the impact of our community development initiatives. 

What I learned today, in a room surrounded by government, civil society, development bank, etc. employees, who are leaders and most senior managers in their respective agencies, is that the extractive industry, whether mining or oil&gas, is streaks ahead of these agencies when it comes to putting the most affected people central to development initiatives.  Perhaps it has to do with the need for our social license to operate, or perhaps it is the pressure from shareholders, governments and even the community members themselves.  Whatever the reasons, we can be proud of what we are achieving and what we have achieved in recent years. 

Of course, we should not rest on our laurels, and we should constantly strive to improve.  But we must always, always put the most affected peoples first and central.

The notion of “social license” has become so embedded in the extractive industry lexicon in the past 15 years that it is frequently invoked in CEO speeches, and used to title sustainability reports and industry conferences.  And in the past 24 hours it (or rather the lack thereof) has been used as a red flag in the negotiations between Rand Gold and AnglogoldAshanti as they try to formulate a joint venture to re-ignite the Obuasi Mine in Ghana.

Obuasi Gold Mine is located near Obuasi in the Ashanti Region and it started operating in 1897.  It was acquired through the merger of between Anglo Gold and Ashanti Goldfields in 2003, which resulted in the formation of AnglogoldAshanti in 2004.  Obuasi is well-known for its destructive environmental legacy, labour problems and problems related to illegal ASM activities on its property.  A large section of the mine is currently under care and maintenance while its owners seek solutions, one being a possible joint venture with Rand Gold.

Obuasi’s lack of social licence to operate highlights the business case for having social license.  Social license in its traditional meaning refers to approval by local communities and stakeholders for a company or a project to operate in the area.  Often people will link it only to a specific activity or industry, e.g. a mine, or the extractive industry, but just as often, if not more often now with the availability of the internet, with a specific company.  Social license can range for reluctant acceptance of the project to a relationship based on high levels of mutual trust.  Perceptions of the company and its employees’ conduct play a big role in whether social licence will be achieved.

What is lacking in this somewhat “narrow” view, is that we consider “society” to be outside and removed from the company or the project or the operation.  “Society” is viewed as the affected communities, and other stakeholders, which includes government, NGOs and if one is lucky, the local economy.  Very seldom do we actively consider and include the labour force, the workers and the contract staff as part of the society from which we should gain license to operate.  Many clients have pointed out to me that human resource issues should be separated from that of the community, forcing a separation between the human resource department and the community relations department, building silos without any real bridges.

At Obuasi the lack of social license to operate is closely linked with labour issues at the mine.  In South Africa, there is currently an application for a silicosis class action law suit being brought in front of the courts.  It relates to millions of gold mine workers dying from silicosis and the gold mining companies refusing to take care of them, leaving the expenses for the care on the shoulders of impoverished communities.  At Marikana, in August 2012, workers protested working conditions and died, and a few months later, in Ghana, the Tarkwa and Damang gold mines had an unprecedented combined strike.  These incidents have all significantly reduced or completely removed the respective companies’ social license to operate.  The silicosis case is managing to reduce the social license of gold mining to an all-time low.

Isn’t it time for us to include labour in our “society” when we seek a social license to operate?

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