This past weekend, a unique meeting between church and religious leaders, mining executives, trade unions and NGOs, was held at the headquarters of the Anglican Church in Bishopscourt. The goal? To address the challenges in and surrounding the mining industry in South Africa. Dr. Renier Koegelenberg, who attended the event, tells more.
Dr Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and Mr Mark Cutifani, chief executive of Anglo American Plc in London, was the driving force behind this singular meeting, held on 8 and 9 October. Apart from leaders from the church and religious sectors, mining executives from the gold, platinum, oil and coal industries, trade union leaders and non-governmental organizations, the approximately 60 delegates also included a few representatives from elsewhere in Southern Africa.
The dialogue was the continuation of a process started two years ago with consultations in Rome and London, where the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican Churches all participated. In terms of the South African consultation, Makgoba emphasised that the churches are not choosing sides between the different role players within the mining community, but wants to act as facilitator for a critical dialogue on various challenges. This includes how the mining industry can be transformed to ensure sustainable development; how to address the large gap between the wages of workers and that of management and owners of mines; handling of social challenges in terms of health care and housing; prevention of pollution and the impact it has on the areas in which many mines are situated; conflict between profit and the wellbeing of the communities surrounding the mines.
As the oldest son of a part-time pastor working in mining communities, Makgoba has first-hand experience of the working and living conditions of mine workers. As a psychologist in a mining hospital, Makgoba later worked with mine workers who suffered spinal injuries – also the subject of his doctorate at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.
Cutifani’s dialogue with the church community was triggered by a discussion he had with an environmental activist in South America. After a chance meeting on an airport, the environmentalist challenged him to stop the devastation caused by mines. In his subsequent enquiries into the organisation the activist represented, Cutifani learnt that it is supported by the Catholic Church. He realised that some of the criticism aimed at the mining industry are valid, but on the other hand, misrepresentations about the role mines play in terms of job creation and economic development, abound. He emphasised that “we are not listening to each other”. There are many challenges for mining executives – having to satisfy not only the demands of investors and shareholders but also that of local communities. The South African mining industry needs a new model.
Not everybody invited to Bishopscourt, attended. The reach for an inclusive dialogue with all the role-players still is an important goal for all discussions to follow. But it is important to note that there was a definite undertaking from senior representatives such as Mr Barend Petersen, CEO of De Beers, and Canon Desmond Lambrechts of the Anglican Church. Both are key players in the process to make a new start and they undertook to “not speak of each other but to each other”.
The pioneer work done by Dr Brian Brink to provide Antiretroviral Treatment (ARTs) to mineworkers within Anglo American, and the community health programmes initiated by Bishop Kevin Dowling of the Catholic Church in Rustenburg, are examples of what is possible.
Makgoba emphasised that their meeting shouldn’t remain mere words, but that concrete actions are necessary to address the challenges and make a difference to the lives of people within the mining communities. A joint committee of business representatives and religious leaders now have to work through a number of suggestions and also identify programmes, including the follow-up of support announced by various mining CEOs. This includes various programmes regarding the safety and health of mineworkers and their communities, as well as training.
If all sectors (financial, agricultural, small business etc.) were to join this process, and similar processes of cooperation are to be facilitated by bridge builders in their local communities and towns, it will have a significant impact on South Africa’s development. Cooperation, trust and a communal vision will not result from talks but by launching inclusive actions and programmes.
Is this wishful thinking the current South Africa? Not according to Makgoba and Cutifani.
In the examples cited below, what seemed virtually impossible, became reality. In the words of former president Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. Big challenges had to be overcome, but the role these bridge builders played significantly impacted the political and economic development of their countries.
At a meeting held in June this year with the German minister of foreign affairs, Dr Walter Steinmeier, Dr Makgoba asked him what lies behind the economic success and stability of Germany. Steinmeier answered: “We have learnt that mutual respect and cooperation between different sectors and parties, and consensus regarding national challenges, is a condition for stability and development.”
- Around 1970 a Lutheran cleric invited the then German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, and the Polish Prime Minister, Józef Cyrankiewicz, to informally meet at a series of talks held by a German church academy. The cleric hoped that such a meeting will contribute to reconciliation between Germany and Poland (where the Second World War started). Not only this, but it inspired Brandt to develop Germany’s “Ostpolitik” – dialogue and closer cooperation with East-Germany and the USSR. While being controversial, Brandt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his endeavours. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War between East and West and eventually lead to the reunification of Germany.
- Locally, Dr Beyers Naudé of the Dutch Reformed Church played a similar role: his opposition of Apartheid and his dream of a fair community not based on race (following the work of the Christian Institute), resulted in him being shunned by his church and his mobility to be restricted. But he stuck to his role as facilitator between representatives of the freedom movements and the political set in charge. Despite Naudé not being a member of the ANC, Mandela recognised his role by including him in the first formal meeting between an ANC delegation and the government of FW de Klerk. At his funeral, former President Thabo Mbeki said: “Oom Bey was part of a very small group of people who kept South Africa from sliding over the edge into chaos.” Naudé also played a role in the formation of the Ecumenical Foundation of South Africa (EFSA) and asked: “Do research in Germany on how their churches understand their role in building a democratic state after the WW2, and how churches can help to eradicate poverty.”
- With his recent visit to Cuba and the USA, Pope Francis’ ‘clerical diplomacy’ came to the fore with the role he played to fix the relations between Cuba and the USA. By using clerics, he sent personal messages to the leaders in both these countries, which played an intrinsic role in the normalising of their relations: celebrating Mass on Revolutionary Square in Havana, and his references to the rights of immigrants in his speech to the House of Representatives in the US – all within a week – was the start of a new era.
*Dr Renier Koegelenberg is the executive officer of the Ecumenical Foundation of South Africa (EFSA) in Stellenbosch. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)