From: Amandla! 49/50, December 2016
By: Amandla! correspondent
In August 2016, activists, workers and community members presented cases to the Southern Africa Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Transnational Corporations. This is the latest in the series we have been publishing.
When the Swazi communities of Lubulini and Lavumisa presented their case on the impacts of the Maloma Collieries on their livelihoods, it was the first time they had spoken out about it in public. Not just to the local public, but the regional and international public too. Telling their stories took immense bravery. Swaziland, and in particular the monarchy, is notorious for its repression of free speech and punishment of any voices speaking negatively about the government, and they spoke directly about the interests of the monarchy.
Owned by the King and the ANC
If there was a list of abusive actions caused by any mine, Maloma Collieries would tick almost every box. This coal mine, in the Lubumba region of Swaziland, is majority owned byChancellor House, an investment vehicle for the African National Congress, and the Swazi monarch, King Mswati III, through his company Tibiyo TakaNgwane. It was purchased from Xstrata, now Glencore Xstrata in 2013. The mine has caused irreversible destruction of the environment, cracked the homes of the surrounding community, developed corrupt relationships with communityleadership and used violence against mineworkers striking for decent wages.
Swaziland is an interesting case: nearly 100% of the coal from the Maloma Collieries goes to South Africa to power the country’s ferrochrome smelters. Yet at the same time, Swaziland imports 78% of its electricity, almost exclusively from South Africa.
Leaving a trail of destruction
This cheap coal to South Africa comes at the expense of both the surrounding community and the mineworkers. Apart from cracking houses, blasting underground has created deep sinkholes into which entire structures disappear. The lack of environmental regulations enables the company to poison the air breathed in by the local community, and the water and soil through acid mine drainage. In a vicious cycle of destruction, the soil toxification destroys the local vegetation, causing trees and shrubs to die, which in turn contributes to soil erosion and further environmental damage. Without clean water and plants to eat, wildlife and farm animals die.
The government refuses to register or legally recognise the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA). In November 2014, 270 mineworkers had a confrontation with police in what has been termed a Marikana-like standoff over wages, with workers retreating to a hill near the mine. They had been demanding better working conditions and an increase in their housing allowance from R425 to R 800 a month. Their wages are between R2000 and R3000 a month. At the time, COSA U called for Chancellor House to put pressure on the Swazi government to stop reacting to strikers with heavily armed security forces. They received no response.
Southern African state leaders, SADC and the African Union have not taken any steps to push the monarchy to implement human rights. Political parties remain banned since 1973, and draconian laws like the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act enable severe punishment and oppression of any forms of dissent, even though criticism against the government is a right enshrined in the Swazi Constitution. Ultimately, the monarchy’s interests override the law, including his business interests.
The Mines and Mineral Act of 2011 stipulates that compensation should be paid to owners and lawful occupiers of the land for damage. But nothing of the sort has taken place to compensate them for their loss of land and livelihood, and their ill-health caused by the operations.
For the profit of the King
While these are problems at many African mines, in Swaziland the monarchy has a share in the majority of the business, up to 25%, excluding royalties, and has formed close relationships with the chiefs and traditional leaders of many communities. The King’s interest in the companies is represented by an emissary, and in cases where there are internal disputes, this representative works with chiefs who favour the monarchy. This naturally makes it very difficult for communities to challenge the monarchy on its corporate interests, even though the responsibilities of TNC’s are stipulated in the Swazi Constitution.
And relations with the monarchy help to bypass regulations: Maloma has been operating since 2013, but only obtained a mining license in August 2015. But that caused no problem: it was simply backdated to June 2013. So easy when you have the right contacts.