“When mining stops, the people there are left in extreme poverty”: on Africa’s foreign-owned mining enclaves

A man walks on rail track near the bauxite factory in Guinea in 2008. Image: Getty.

The town of Fria in Guinea was built around bauxite mining in 1957. It used to have good facilities: water, electricity, schools, housing and hospitals. But since the last company mining there began to decrease activities in 2008, after the financial crisis and a fall in aluminium prices, the population has increasingly lived in poverty with high rates of unemployment. Families that used to provide for their extended families cannot today afford to care for the needs of their own children and immediate relatives.

In 2009 Julien Brygo, a French photojournalist, wrote:

Many of the benefits the locals used to enjoy are being lost. While accommodation remains free, the children’s nursery is closed, the swimming pool, athletics tracks and sports stadium have fallen into disrepair, water and electricity are now rationed. The Pechiney hospital, as the locals still call it, long recognised as the best in Guinea, is no longer regularly supplied with medicine.

Russian parent company RUSAL finally closed the mine in 2012. The move left more than 1,000 permanent employees and 2,000 outsourced workers without pay. One resident spoke of a starving population who were “selling their property, their homes, and plots of land and even furniture to survive”.

Fria’s sad decline is because it is an “enclave”, a town built to respond to the needs of a refinery, run by a succession of companies before RUSAL took up operations 16 years ago. It is just one of an increasing number of makeshift towns built around rural mineral extraction sites in African countries including Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Sudan, and Nigeria, which are being driven by growing foreign investment in mining.

These new urban developments are sustained, managed and controlled by the mining companies. And although the nature of these towns vary between countries and what is being mined, they all share some common characteristics. They are all administered by foreign companies in accordance with the norms of “home” states, such as the US, France and Australia, and mostly managed by foreign nationals – with heavy support from outside investment.

It means these enclaves develop economies that are totally disconnected from the wider realities of the host countries. And in the case of Fria, the danger is that when mining activities stop, the people living there are left in extreme poverty with no alternative livelihoods.

Sharing the benefits

The Fria mining site. Image: author provided.

Despite slow economic growth in Guinea between 1958 and 2008, the mining sector is the largest contributor to the state’s export revenue and its most stable source of tax revenue. In 2008, Bauxite – the main source of the world’s aluminium – accounted for about $596m (40 per cent) of the country’s total exports. Industrial mining activities provided about 22,000 direct full-time jobs and created over 50,000 indirect jobs.

And enclaves come with some advantages. In Guinea, for example, because high amounts of electricity are needed to extract alumina from bauxite, the enclaves benefit from 24/7 electricity. And although much of the highly skilled expertise is provided by expats from abroad, the mining sector still offers job opportunities to nationals, sometimes creating collaborations between mining companies and local education centres.

In Guinea, bauxite mining is the second-largest employer after the civil service. Then there are the jobs needed to run operations: drivers, technicians, engineers, cooks and security agents. And because many of those involved in operations are Western foreigners, the infrastructures are built to those standards and often health services are the best in the country.

In two other Guinean enclaves, Kamsar and Sangaredi, employees and their families live with 24/7 access to water and electricity, reliable healthcare, subsidised food, supermarkets, air conditioning, good schools, free housing, good roads and cultural spaces. Everything has been built to meet the standard of living expected by foreign expatriates. Though the state provides some security services and administrative officials, these staff, too, benefit from the lifestyle created.

But life in an enclave is totally different from that lived by the majority of Guineans outside of it. Less than 15 minutes’ drive away and you step outside the enclave bubble and into the realities experienced by the majority of Guineans. Much of the population faces poverty with no access to basic infrastructure such as water, electricity and health services. Life in the enclaves is what the majority of Guineans would like to see the mining sector provide to wider society.

There are some formal and informal economies that crop up just outside the mining enclaves, which enable at least some other Guineans to benefit from the mining sector. For instance, outside of Kamsar there is a large market created to meet the needs of the mine workers and their families and which draws in local entrepreneurs from elsewhere in Guinea who want to take advantage of the higher salaries linked to the enclaves.

But after 50 years of development of the extractive industry, Guinean society as a whole is yet to benefit significantly from the revenues of its mining sector. And worst of all, when mining activities stop, it is the general population who have never benefited from the mining who also end up with environmental damage such as land degradation and pollution.


What’s left?

After the investment is gone, most of the services provided in the enclaves disappear as do the jobs. Towns like Kamsar and Sangaredi are still attractive now, but unless the government intervenes to make sure the rural economy is developed and unless mining revenues are more fully fed into the overall economy, these towns won’t contribute to sustainable development in Guinea.

Talking to people in local communities near bauxite mining areas in Guinea, I found many expressed dissatisfaction about the division between those inside and outside the enclaves. It doesn’t help that in Guinea, in contrast to places like Sudan, Nigeria and Angola, mining activities happen in close proximity to local communities, meaning company transportation passes through local towns. Some have resorted to addressing mining companies directly with specific demands for the development of their towns in return for the stability of mining activities.

Between 2007 and 2012, for example, mining firm Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG) (part-owned by the Guinean goverment), was the victim of several youth-led protests in Kamsar demanding more support to improve their livelihoods. Protests lead to the temporary disruption of mining activities which in turn can lead to lost revenue for the company. To avoid the disruption of their mining activities, CBG told me in 2014 that it had responded to the youth protests by implementing several community projects. One of these projects, “Toutes Petites Entreprises”, was created to promote, support and sponsor local youth led enterprises and to ensure that the CBG offers job opportunities to youth living in neighbouring local communities. These initiatives have contributed to improving the relationship between CBG and neighbouring communities. But more remains to be done in order to ensure that mining revenues benefit wider Guinean society.

In order to avoid further clashes with local communities, mining companies such as CBG urgently need to work together with the state to ensure that profits from mining benefit all. And to prevent mining companies leaving ghost towns like Fria, plans must be put in place to promote the kind of economic development that will sustain the population long after mining has finished.The Conversation

Penda Diallo is a visiting research associate at King's College London.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.