Learning how to listen in the South African mining industry

first_imgIntenational Mining’s South African technology and services focus is one of the articles in the January issue. Among the many burning issues on which South Africa’s mining industry is currently reflecting is the way it talks to its workers and their communities – and the way it listens to them.In the wake of recent mine violence and strikes, there is a growing need for a more effective engagement between mine management and local stakeholders, according to Nancy Coulson of the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI) at the University of the Witwatersrand.“This is by no means a new issue for mines,” said Coulson, “but recent events have shown how much we still need to learn, and how much better we need to become at dealing with the deep and complex issues between mines, communities, workers and other stakeholders in this sector.”Getting mines to help build and diversify their local economies, for instance, has been one of the aims of government mineral policy for some time. She said that CSMI research is showing that a fundamental shift is already underway in how mines see and direct their socio-economic contribution to local economies.“In the past, a mine would largely have taken its own decisions on what projects would be initiated or supported in communities on its doorstep,” said Coulson. “Today, mines’ Social and Labour Plans require engagement with local municipalities and other stakeholders. Mining operations are also recognising that socio-economic investments may be made more wisely if they pool their resources with other mines in their locality. This would require a change to the present regulatory framework and is an indication of the significant strides forward.”But this is the start of a long process, a key aspect of which is to build knowledge and awareness among senior mine management and professionals, to take the industry beyond the check-list approach to community engagement.“This is a learning curve that many managers have gone through on other important sustainability issues, such as mine safety and environmental impact,” she said. “While there are managers and experts dedicated to each priority area on a mine, top management must be knowledgeable to the extent that they can pull these priorities together into an effective corporate strategy.”The good news, according to Coulson, is that that there is a growing body of working knowledge on stakeholder engagement – in the mining sector and beyond – that is helpful for this kind of work, and South African practitioners are benefiting from the progress made by local mines.The CSMI – which trains and educates managers, practitioners and regulators in various aspects of sustainable development – is developing a module for the MSc Mining Engineering course, looking specifically at issues of socio-economic development and stakeholder engagement.“Our concern is that learning in the field of community and stakeholder development has often been limited to a fairly low-level, hands-on approach that tries to provide simple steps to success,” she said. “We need to take this to a higher level, to help decision-makers to understand the systems at play in their workplace, the legacy that underpins our conditions today and the profound nature of inequality in our society that compounds our circumstances.”She insists that while there is no ‘right way’ to do this, there are certainly better ways – and the future of the industry will in part be dependent on how well mines can open up effective communication channels and engage with pressing issues outside their boundary fences.“It’s important to understand, for instance, the links between how stakeholders are engaged inside a company and what happens outside with a community,” said Coulson. “These two worlds are so inter-related that they can’t always be dealt with separately by different departments within a company; management needs to be alive to where worker issues overlap with community issues – and where these in turn link to questions of environmental impact.”Miners’ reporting on sustainable development can gloss over the real difficulties faced at operational level in meeting compliance targets; these unresolved issues, which frequently include living conditions and housing, then tend to bubble under the surface until they reach bursting point.Getting deeper into the complex challenges of community engagement will foster understanding and guide better mine-community interventions, she said, but long term impact cannot be achieved by mines alone. It is vital that initiatives are “institutionalised”, to carry them forward in a sustainable way.“The involvement of government is one of the most common ways that mines can leverage their community projects and boost both impact and longevity,” said Coulson. “It is certainly a problem that local government often does not have the capacity to deliver on their mandates to communities on the outskirts of mines, but this is part of the landscape that mines engage and need to help find solutions.”A central theme of this journey towards better stakeholder engagement, she said, is that better partnerships make more of an impact on fighting poverty and advancing development. This outcome will not be achieved by following a proven recipe, but by fostering critical and engaged thinking among management and other role players.The Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI) is a centre of excellence in Africa for the training and education of managers, practitioners and regulators in sustainable development. It was formed in 2004 as a partnership between the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand and mining companies BHP Billiton, Lonmin and AngloGold Ashanti.last_img read more

On the run letters were unprecedented and flawed but not unlawful

first_imgTWO TERRORISM SUSPECTS were given letters in error that told them the British authorities were not seeking to arrest them.That is the finding of the Hallett Review into so called “on the run” (OTR) letters.Justice Dame Heather Hallett was appointed by the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice in March to conduct the review after the collapse of the prosecution of Downey.A court in London granted an abuse of process application in the case against John Downey in February and the Crown Prosecution Service said it would not appeal the decision. The judge ruled that an official assurance – even though it was given in error – meant that the 62-year-old could not face trial.Downey had been sent a letter of assurance – in error – which he relied on to travel to the UK.The trial judge described the issuing of the letter as a “catastrophic error” and concluded that it would be an abuse of process to continue the trial.The Hallett Review looked at the operation of the scheme between 2000 and 2014, when the Northern Ireland Secretary announced the end of the scheme.The review also found that:The scheme evolved as part of the peace process in Northern Ireland. It was “unprecedented and flawed”, but was not unlawful and did not give terrorist suspects an ‘amnesty’Only OTRs against those there was insufficient evidence to justify arrest or prosecution should have been assured that they could return to the UKProsecutors and successive Attorneys General continued to take independent decisions on whether the evidence against an OTR justified prosecution, throughout the lifetime of the schemeThe flaws in the scheme were “mostly systemic”There was a lack of structure and strategy to the scheme as well as inadequate liaison between the Departments and organisations responsible. Under the scheme properly administered John Downey should not have been sent a letter of assurance by the Northern Ireland OfficeThe error that led to the sending of a letter of assurance to John Downey was the result of a mistake by the Police. The ruling in John Downey’s case was made on its own facts and would not necessarily prevent the prosecution of others who have received letters of assuranceThe review uncovered two more occasions where it appears a letter of assurance was sent as a result of errorsThe British Government did not publicise the scheme, but nor did it deliberately obscure itOf the 228 names put forward by Sinn Fein, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Prison Service, 156 people received letters of assurance that confirmed they were not wanted, another 31 were told they were ‘not wanted’ some other way, 23 were told they were wanted and 18 have not been told their status.The Royal Prerogative of Mercy was not used to pardon any of the OTRs but it was used to remit the sentences of 13 convicted OTRsTerese Villiers, the Northern Secretary, told the House of Commons that review was a learning experience.“The Northern Ireland administration will not shirk its responsibility in learning from the mistakes that were made.”She said that no more not wanted notifications were issued in recent years.SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell called the Downey case a “sad, sad saga”. He said that the past “hung over us like an Alpine glacier” and called on Villiers to help Northern Ireland “honourably deal with the past”.Read: Homecoming dance for Hyde Park bomb accused cancelled over “media circus”last_img read more