Although multinational mining companies are often criticised, African governments are the biggest culprits in the leakages of mineral proceeds from Africa, the 5th Alternative Mining Indaba heard in Cape Town yesterday.
Figures released in one of the four thematic breakaway sessions of the indaba, which seeks to give voice to mine workers and communities affected by mining show that under-invoicing, transfer pricing, ÂÂÂÂ tax avoidanceÂÂÂÂ and evasion and dubious inter-company loans among other shenanigans by the corporate sector, accounted for 60% of mining revenue leakages while official corruption accounted forÂÂÂÂ 5%. A Zambian official said his country had lost more than $8.8 billion over ten years to these kinds of practices.
The Alternative Mining Indaba, attended by about 200 delegates from civil society organisations and faith-based groups as well as international development organisations such as Oxfam,ÂÂÂÂ is taking place at a hotel in Seapoint, Capet Town, a stone’s throw away from the upmarket Cape Town Convention Centre where about 6000 delegates from the world’s 2000-organisation oligarchy have descended for their own annual Mining Indaba. However, in spite of its smaller gathering, the AMI maintains that it is the true mining Indaba as it represents people’s voices.
“This is the real mining indaba.ÂÂÂÂ The other representsÂÂÂÂ the interests of the minority while here, in an insignificant corner of Cape Town it is the interests of the majority of the people that are under consideration,”ÂÂÂÂ keynote speaker Dr Godfrey KanyenzeÂÂÂÂ said.ÂÂÂÂ He concurred with social activists that mining had only brought huge profits for the large mining corporations but displacement, environmental degradation, health hazards and squalor forÂÂÂÂ most communities in Africa.
Kanyenze tore apart what he called the myth of the “Africa is on the rise” mantra now being found in most mainstream mass media.ÂÂÂÂ He said the same media had once labelled Africa “the hopeless continent.” The economist and pro- labour activist said those claiming Africa was on the rise were merely looking at overall GDP figures without analysing them and considering the welfare of people.
He argued that a closer look at the Africa Rising phenomenon would reveal a very skewed pattern where the so-called rise in GDP was largely only a growth in mining output that was simply shipped out of the continent.ÂÂÂÂ The same applied to the growth in foreign direct investment. Real growth would come if there was value addition to the minerals In Africa and a growth in other value adding economic activities such as manufacturing and service provision.
“But as things stand we are merely perpetuating the objectives of the Berlin Conference of 1887,” Kanyenze pointed out.
The Executive Director of the Economic Justice Network, conveners of the indaba, Rev Malcolm Damon, said Africa cannot be said to be rising when the quality of life of its people is not rising along with the GDP growth figures. He said his organisation would continue to fight for the economic rights of the oppressed in the mining sector in spite of the threats issued against its use of the name Alternative Mining Indaba by the corporate backed Mining Indaba.
“One of the outputs of this meeting is to come out with a statement that we can take from here and share with our stakeholders,” Malcolm said. The delegates are expected to carry out a march on Thursday to air grievances on behalf of those exploited by mining companies. He stressed that events such as the strike at Marikana platinum mines were merely a manifestation of unmet expectations by workers, who he said should be paid a living wage. Natural resources should not only be exploited for the benefit of a few shareholders, he said.
Many participants at the indaba were in a radical mood, with some insisting that the time for holding dialogue with mining companies was over and there should be unspecified action. Delegates from Brazil suggested that it would be better to stop mining activities that did not benefit locals and instead concentrate on agriculture which in the long term could earn 500% more than minerals which deplete resources such as land and water.
This was well-received by some of the African delegates who felt that it would be better to stop exploitation of the exhaustible minerals and preserve the lands. Furthermore, it was observed, many of the mining laws in Africa stemmed from colonial days and were therefore designed to exploit the local communities at the expense of a few elites.
This saw some participants standing up and chanting the chorus “Leli yilizwe labokhokho bethu abantu abamnyama” (This is the land of our black forefathers) in defence against exploitation.
However,ÂÂÂÂ it was not only foreigners exploiters that came under fire at the meet, participants showed outrage at the complicity of African leaders and politicians in the exploitation of the continent’s minerals for a song. Delegates from different countries gave examples of how corrupt politicians in their countries signed away concessions for a song in return for bribes. Also, in many African countries, particularly in Angola and Zimbabwe the military were heavily involved in mining activities, exacerbating lack of transparency.
African Union representative Dr Kojo Busia said this was one of the issues the AU’s African Mining Vision intended to tackle.
“The benefits of mining in Africa are not being felt by its citizens. Failure to address this will result in strife,” Kojo warned.