A story of frustrated stakeholders in a compliance practice

Public participation meeting on the application for a water licence for a mine.

In Mpumalanga, in the Olifants catchment, there is a mine that applied for a water licence for mining. A consultant for the Department of Water and Sanitation services ran a public participation process on water user licences for mines in the area. At the meeting stakeholders, particularly representatives of the rural communities, were frustrated and despondent. The consultant gave a generic presentation that he is obliged to give according to the DWS. This was inaccessible to many people there. The consultant was very aware of the steps required for applying for a licence but was unable to respond to questions about how the issuing of a water licence for mining would impact on the environment and the livelihoods of local people. When he was asked these questions he admitted he could not respond and would need to follow up with the department.
The proposed mining site is on a piece of land that is under land claim by the community that were represented at the meeting. The opinion of the community representatives is that government departments such as DWS and Minerals and Energy do not take them seriously when it comes to so called development issues in their area. Business or the private sector take advantage of this. The community representatives think public participation is just done to fulfil the bare minimum legal requirements and their input is hardly taken into consideration. Three to four years ago the community opposed the mining proposal so they were surprised to hear that the permit had been granted (on a piece of land that they are reclaiming from the current owner). The community feel that the mining activities should only be discussed after the land claim issues have been solved. They asked the question: “How can a mine begin mining on a piece of land that is under land claim and how can a water licence be given to the mine for the same reason?”

The final issue to emerge from this meeting was access to water. The community asked why they could not apply for a licence as water pipes were running through their villages and yet they didn’t get even a drop of it.

This example shows that the practice of licensing (a compliance practice) has some problems. One of the aims of module one is to explore the context we are working in and the practices that are in place in some detail to understand exactly what the challenges and questions are that need to be addressed.
As we can see from the above example, some practices are destructive. Another example of a destructive practice is the very high levels of food consumption and other commodities by wealthy countries and wealthy groups and the way this impacts on the environment and society. Often destructive practices go on for a long time because people find it difficult to change their habits. So we can say that people are likely to change a destructive practice only if increased tension or a crisis makes them think about the practice or behaviour in a new way. Many people are now questioning their practice of food consumption because they have become aware of how much damage the practice of food production and distribution is having on the planet. Civil society organisations can help people question their habits and practices and ask questions about whether these are ecologically sustainable and socially just. Civil society organisations can also help people formulate ways of dealing with these issues and put them into action.