In South Africa, rough legacies of historical repression and labor strife are so deeply ingrained they resonate across the borders of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest mining economy, which hosts its No. 1 gold deposits and 70% of global platinum deposits. The 2012 killing of 34 striking miners by security forces at Lonmin plc’s Marikana, one of the country’s top platinum mines, provides a case study, wrote Phillip Frankel in Between Rainbows and the Rain: Marikana, Migration, Mining and the Crisis of Modern South Africa. (Agency for Social Reconstruction, 2013)
The worst state massacre since Apartheid’s 1994 end “could have occurred at any mine in South Africa because of workforce similarities, historical residues, similarities of geological conditions, industrial relations nationwide, safety in South Africa’s ‘hard rock’ mines, or because the industry has discomfort with demands made on it by a new regime,” Frankel wrote. “The massacre is a symbol, or outcome, of wider developments.”
Since then, despite a government-sponsored Farlam Commission and a wave of soul-searching, little has changed. “Marikana is more about a degenerative process in mining and in general,” he added. “This encompasses not only the Northwest province where poor governance, exploitation and atrocities are among the worst in South Africa, but all eight provinces make up the supposedly new democracy.”
One municipality in the “platinum belt” he documented is a “lethal, breathing health hazard, foul-smelling and fetid with transmittable disease” on “islands of unknown material is a sickening mixture of sewerage run-off, animal excrement and mounds of garbage.” People “otherwise unemployable in the most arduous underground conditions, are also migrants from Lesotho, Mozambique, the Eastern Cape and other nodes of poverty,” work for “survivalist reasons.”
Some are outright human trafficking victims “in a netherworld punctuated by breaks in appalling slums adjacent to mine property just beyond the line of vision from the shafts,” he added. Although Frankel noted CSR investments exist, “unfortunately, much of this for environmental assessments, feasibility studies, and the social and labor planning required by law has little impact-either on the ground or under it.”
First impressions can last a lifetime, especially when it comes to what are increasingly called “land grabs.” A 2013 land tenure report by the Munden Project Ltd., singles out “companies ignoring land rights in their acquisition experienced financial damage from operating costs increased by as much as 29% to outright abandonment.”
With mining representing 30% of foreign investment, Laos has been particularly hard-hit, said researchers at the University of Bern’s Center for Development and Environment (CDE) in Switzerland. “There are indications there is a new poverty happening in Laos with the landless poor,” said Andreas Heinimann, a senior lecturer at CDE, who co-authored a report with the Southeast Asian nation’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Most rural ethnic groups, he added, practice shifting cultivation, requiring land plots allowing soil to lie fallow for regeneration as other sections are planted-a system “completely different” from the farming of the lowland areas where they are resettled. In Q2 2014, IRIN News also reported that of 1.1 million hectares of land, 5% of the country’s arable total, has been the subject of 2,600 land agreements since 2010-including hundreds of mining concessions.
In such places over the past half-decade, concession-oriented enterprises borrowed capital at rock-bottom rates for projects guaranteeing a booming demand in emerging economies where debt could be easily serviced. “Risk has not been much of a concern,” said Munden, an asset management-focused consultancy. “The policy has been to shoot first and ask questions later.”
This includes local-level bribery. “There are very few communities where not everything is known, so the moment you buy off the local politicians, the whole world knows about it,” according to a subject of the Harvard study.
The Great Land Heist, a report by NGO ActionAid, speaks of a “global land rush” leading to “a massive rise in the number of people in developing countries evicted or denied access to their own land-sometimes in violent confrontation with the authorities;” among humanitarian violations and investment incentives, the Johannesburg nonprofit also criticized the G8’s “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,” with an emphasis on mobilizing capital and innovation over minimizing risk.
Extractive sector companies are also straying into “customary tenure” systems-unofficial borders pre-dating those of modern nation states. Traversing a developing world long at the mercy of colonial powers, and the crumbling institutions and corrupt dictatorships they left behind, these can pose a far greater nightmare than many commodity and currency shifts.
In extreme environments in Southeast Asia where investors from China converge, farmers are left with nothing, and word can spread fast. “The legal framework is good, but enforcementis the issue,” said CDE researcher Schoenweger. “Most of the time, no compensation is provided to individuals;” Akhom Tuonalom, a vice minister ofthe nation’s Ministry of Natural Resources, conceded: “Weakness is in national land planning and enforcement of investment regulations.”