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Western Limb is  concerned with the answer to one key question: what will the Rustenburg platinum mining region look like in 20 to 30 years when economically accessible platinum resources have been mined out and the mines have been closed.

One of the key areas that matter to the future is high quality, relevant academic research.

A promising multi-stakeholder organisation set up to inform the debate on the future of mining in South Africa

A promising organisation called Mining Dialogues 360 (MD 360) has been set up to provide “a neutral, objective and safe platform to facilitate open debate about all aspects of the mining sector and related issues.”

MD360 Study on state participation in the mining sector was the catalyst

Mining Dialogues 360 came about as a result of a comprehensive academic study compiled by a team of international global experts “into issues relating to state participation in the mining sector from a global and historical perspective”.  The study’s objective was to “inform national debate through exhaustive and rigorous research”.

Mining Dialogues states that the Study seeks to “provide all stakeholders with a common information resource to develop opinions and positions”.  The MD 360 Study aims to be non-partisan and ideologically neutral.

The July 2012 Turbine Hall dialogues

The first dialogue took place over three days.  There were five half day sessions, each of which focussed on a particular stakeholder constituency: civil society, mining companies, investors, labour and government. The sixth and final session synthesised the five session and mapped out some next steps.  This synthesis is set out in a concise nine page summary report (available here).

MD 360 participationOne of the things I found inspiring about the dialogues is that, even as it attempted to establish a neutral platform for these very different stakeholders, the Summary Report made it clear that there needs to be a common vision.   The Summary Report states that the “the vision must be to optimise the contribution of the mining sector to South Africa’s economic development“.   I would have preferred the focus to be on human development rather than economic development, but within a global system that still uses economic development as a bench mark for the good life, this is a sensible place to start.  Its one that everyone understands.

Balancing act

The key theme that emerged was the need for balance:

“If any of [the five stakeholder groups] feels short-changed or excluded, the optimization process will never be successful.  Nor will it work if any stakeholder group is perceived to be securing more of the benefit than it deserves.”

Nine key messages

Nine key messages emerged from the dialogues.  Western Limb is excited about exploring these nine key messages, from the different angles we are interested in: community engagement, academic research and music, film and the arts.

The nine key messages are:

1. Finance – investors are skittish, but there is excellent long term potential, because South Africa has the goodies.

2. New actors – the landscape is changing, after a long period where the same organisations where the key actors – the landscape is shifting, and this requires careful consideration.

3. Evidence – the evidence we have to inform the debate sucks.  Different stakeholders mistrust the evidence that is presented to them.  An agreed evidence base is needed.

4. Benefit sharing – “The challenge is not solely to allocate the benefits from mining equitably among the stakeholders; instead it must embrace the deeper challenge of transforming value creation in mining into the development of a modern, diversified economy”.  Very well said.

5. Strengthening Government performance – raise your game, folks.  Life is more fun when you perform.  For you and for everyone around you.

6. Skills development – “Mining houses and the industry need to move beyond simple compliance-based approaches in this area and embrace a more strategic and collective approach to skills development in the sector, potentially emulating other sectors in establishing ambitious institutes of education, skills development and leadership that embrace not only the sector’s own needs but also the wider needs of communities and governments; if they are to be effective partners in development they too need a higher level of skills development”.

7. Communities – a fresh approach to the way that Social and Labour Plans (part of the licensing requirements for mining right holders in South Africa) are drawn up. These should reflect a genuine “community license to operate”.

8. Technology innovation – basically, we suck.

9. Connectivity – get everyone together more often and get different stakeholder groups together so that they develop a “common voice”. “There is nothing like small victories to attract adherents”.

Conclusion

The Summary Report concluded with this call to action:

“Addressing these issues through a systematic process of consultation, dialogue and consensus-seeking could finally begin to move the mining sector towards the space that it must occupy if it is to fulfil the many hopes vested in it by South African society.

Nobody thinks it is an easy task, but the price of not adequately addressing these issues is enormous and is already being felt.”

Let’s do it, yeah?

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