The first African People´s Tribunal on Transnational Corporations, that recently took place on 16th and 17th August in Manzini, Swaziland, was perhaps the most counter-hegemonic and brave event to bring some hope to mining affected communities in Southern Africa.
Held in the context of the SADC Peoples´ Summit – an alternative popular gathering in parallel to the official Heads of States and Government summit, the Tribunal brought together activists and community members from rural areas where Transnational Corporations (TNCs) extract various minerals in Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
One of the strongest points about this Tribunal session was the opportunity that affected community members had to raise their voices and speak for themselves, about their own lives and the hardships they endure daily, exposing to a physically present jury, the atrocities and injustices perpetuated by Transnational mining Companies.
In addition, after days of overland journeys under arduous circumstances, including bureaucratic embarrassments at the boarders - as was the case of the Zambian and Zimbabwean community members – being at the same place in session with other people who have been equally affected by the extractive industries, created an environment of compassion and built a strong sense of comradeship, which will certainly strengthen mutual solidarity among the affected. The emotional tones through which the affected presented their cases demonstrated exasperation but also some kind of hope that the situation could be reversed.
Although the jury of this Tribunal was not expected to give any legally binding verdicts upon the evidences of the cases submitted and presented by the offended witnesses, a final pronouncement or positioning statement of the “judges” will perhaps be a crucial missing element for the affected people to get that strong confidence that destructive TNCs actions in their communities – and the industrial mining sector as a whole – can in fact face legal action and corporate impunity can in fact be stopped. They may be more certain in believing that those disastrous actions are wrong and unjust, and therefore must be opposed. As Gianni Tognoli stated in the opening of the Manzini session, the affected peoples presented their cases “not just as victims, but most importantly as the principal subjects of law”.
In their presentations, the affected community members announced demands to both the mining companies and their governments. There were similarities on the negative impacts caused by the mining activities (pollution, health problems, destruction of water and soils, displacements, etc.) and the demands were also clear: supported relocation of the communities, participation of the communities in decision-making, compensations of material losses (houses, contamination of water…) and more.
Gaining a slice of the cake or leaving the coal in the hole?
The argument that “leaving the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole” is predominantly promoted by experts and academics – and not necessarily a demand from workers and local poor communities – was clearly denied at the Peoples´ Tribunal in Swaziland. From the cases presented in Manzini it was clear to see that indeed, negatively affected communities by mining demand immediate “reparation” since the damage is already done and the impacts are already happening. However, it was equally clear to notice that there is a growing understanding, by local communities, that the narrative of development through extractivism is a myth - more and more they are seeing that mining is in reality an escalating looting of their resources and results in a deepening of poverty, food insecurity and water pollution. “We prefer to see the mine closed”, demanded a community member from Tete province in Mozambique.
The case of Xolobeni (Kwa-Zulu Natal province, South Africa) that was presented at the Tribunal, showed that local community in Pondoland Wild Coast is struggling to prevent Australian firm, Mineral Commodities (MRC), from extracting titanium in sand dunes in the Amadiba traditional area. This resistance has already caused the assassination of an anti-mining activist Mr. Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe in March 2016.
Threats and discouragement of organized struggles that resist mining is escalating everywhere, but there is also a determination not to give up: “We are not going be intimidated. MRC will never mine in our land”, said Nonhle Mbuthuma of Amadiba Crisis Committee as she finished her testimony at the tribunal.
The next session of the People´s Tribunal will take place in May 2017 in South Africa.
* Boaventura Monjane is a Mozambican activist and journalist. He is a PhD student at the Centre for Social Studies/Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra and researcher at the Centre for Civil Society, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal