sustainability
Courtesy: Ivanplats

Minerals are a finite resource and mine closure has a profound and often devastating impact on surrounding communities and towns.

It is accepted that mining companies have a central role to play in mitigating this impact, by helping improve the resilience of local economies in the face of mine closure.

But how to facilitate such a ‘social transition’ away from dependence on mining is a complex question.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 4, 2020
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here

In this series of five articles, experts from SRK Consulting share experience, lessons and insights that contribute to resolving this inevitable challenge.

In this, the first article in the series, it is argued that sustainable social transitioning begins with a paradigm shift. This requires corporate thinking to move away from seeing communities as beneficiaries – and to rather appreciate the assets that exist in the community as resources for building sustainability.

The second article will consider what this paradigm shift means in practical terms, with a focus on some of the lessons learnt by mines in helping create self-sustainable community projects.

The importance of economic diversification in the local economy of a mine is the focus of the third article, which will consider how a mine can promote such diversification through the way it manages its supply chain.

An element of this topic is how mine employees can be launched into new ventures outside of direct mine employment, and the fourth article looks at options for these kinds of mine initiatives.

In the fifth and final article in the series, the experts tackle the conundrum of how a mine should engage transparently with community stakeholders about mine closure.

Recognising the assets and opportunities inherent in mine communities throughout the life of mine is one of the first steps towards more sustainable social transitioning after mine closure, according to SRK Consulting principal consultant and social scientist Lisl Fair.

“A key challenge in driving effective social transitioning during mine closure is that some mines continue to adopt outdated practices – seeing communities as beneficiaries of the mine’s generosity,” says Fair.

“A more constructive paradigm is to recognise the community assets that already exist, and leverage these toward greater economic resilience. This can significantly improve community self-reliance after a mine’s life comes to an end.”

Environmental liabilities tend to be the main focus of mine closure, she says, but the self-sustainability of mine communities after closure is increasingly on the radar of mining companies.

The challenge is that boardroom statements are often not matched by on-the-ground expertise, responsibility and financial commitment during the entire mine life-cycle.

“Effective social transitioning focuses on early and ongoing support for the future self-sustainability of mining communities,” she says.

“This includes collaborating with communities to build on their existing human, social, infrastructural and financial assets – to create livelihood resilience when the mine closes its doors.”

Ideally, this process begins in the mine’s concept stage, where the preliminary economic assessment incorporates an appropriate budget for the range of costs required by self-sustainable initiatives throughout the life of mine to support social transitioning at closure.

This budget would include not just retrenchment packages and re-skilling of employees, but investment from day one in long-term self-sustainable community projects to grow and diversify the local economy.

“It is therefore vital for mines to integrate their regulatory social development initiatives and corporate social investment (CSI) focus with their training initiatives and their procurement policy,” she says.

“This ensures that all resources are channelled effectively towards the same end-result: greater self-sustainability of mining communities.”

A practical intervention for mines is a community self-sustainability assessment, to select and guide the most valuable interventions aimed at social transitioning.

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Such tools are being developed and refined as the skills base evolves among sustainability practitioners. She emphasises the importance of developing good practice in the field of social transitioning, as this impacts directly on the mining sector’s social licence to operate.

“For the second year running, consultants Ernst and Young (EY) have shown that mining companies put social licence to operate as the number one risk in the sector,” says Fair.

“Addressing this risk is going to require considerable investment of resources to continue developing the industry’s skills, tools and capacity to foster sustainable community development around mines.”

Taking an asset-based community development approach throughout the life of mine, mines can apply tools like this one to plan and implement their social transitioning strategy for closure –  with development initiatives planned through each stage of the project cycle

Lisl Fair and the SRK Consulting social transitioning during mine closure team, Jessica Edwards, Adel Malebana and Ashleigh Maritz

Lisl has over 20 years’ experience in Africa in the following fields:  social development policy and strategy; stakeholder engagement; neuro-based capacity building; relocation and economic displacement; enterprise and supplier development; digital transformation and inclusion; climate change resilience; and asset-based community development. She holds a Master’s degree in Communication Pathology from the University of Pretoria and is a certified member of the International Association of Public Participation.

Ashleigh has over 11 years’ experience in the field of environmental management where her core expertise lies in project management of environmental and social impact assessments (within South Africa and Africa), auditing and due diligence/technical reviews. Recently, Ashleigh has been involved in mega infrastructure and energy projects and her experience also spans into the mining and governmental sectors in South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, DRC and Zimbabwe. Ashleigh has worked extensively in the engineering, procurement, management and construction (EPCM) environment. She is registered with the South African Council of Natural Science Professionals (PrSciNat).

Lisl has over 20 years’ experience in Africa in the following fields:  social development policy and strategy; stakeholder engagement; neuro-based capacity building; relocation and economic displacement; enterprise and supplier development; digital transformation and inclusion; climate change resilience; and asset-based community development. She holds a Master’s degree in Communication Pathology from the University of Pretoria and is a certified member of the International Association of Public Participation.

Adel has 19 years’ experience as a social and resettlement specialist.  She obtained a Master of Science Degree in Development Planning (MSc) from the University of Witwatersrand in 2001 prior to which she was an educator with the Gauteng Department of Education for six years. She began her career as a consultant in 2001, with a special focus on baseline social surveys, social impact assessments, households and graves resettlement planning and implementation, post relocation assessments and close out audits, livelihoods restoration planning, multi-stakeholder engagement and facilitation, local economic development projects identification and implementation, and social management plans. 

Jessica has over 18 years’ of experience in social research and community participation processes. She holds a Master’s Degree in Environment and Society has extensive experience in conducting social related impact assessments ranging between mining, infrastructure and residential development type projects. She regularly assists clients in the development and updating of their social obligations and assists with the identification of viable local economic development projects in liaison with local government stakeholders. Jessica has undertaken numerous social audits against the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards and has also implemented Resettlement Action Plans against these standards. Jessica has been at the forefront of developing mechanisms to ensure social transition towards mine closure in an attempt to ensure a sustainable transition for communities beyond mining. She formed part of the team that developed the Socio-Economic Closure Impact Assessment for Kumtor Gold in Central Asia and assisted the client in developing social closure criteria and indicators.

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