Churches play the mining health and safety ball

The SA Anglican Church continued the Catholic initiative for mining health and safety at a meeting with mining people in Cape Town.

Several churches and mining role-players met at Bishopscourt in Cape Town, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, to discuss the future of the mining industry in the country.

The “Day of Courageous Conversations” was the first step in South Africa after the Vatican’s. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace hosted a Day of Reflection two years ago.

The process continued with an Ecumenical Day of Reflection at Lambeth Palace in London, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the British Methodist Conference; and more recently another Day of Reflection at the Vatican, reports

“We might best be placed to think about how we could work together on mine health and safety issues. There may well be other areas that we could partner on, but this might be the one tangible area we need to reflect on,” said Revd Makgoba.

“You in the mining houses have mastered this area, and you have reduced fatalities, but we in the churches have the injured in our communities, as well as those who contract HIV and Aids or TB while working on the mines.

“Churches pour a lot of energy, time and money in this area. Your experience in mine health and safety will find fertile hearts in the churches.

Churches worried about mining health, safety, and environmental impacts

“Secondly, perhaps we should look at our records, as the mining industry, and our response as the faith community, on environmental degradation.

“I have just returned from the Diocese of Matlosane, around Klerksdorp, and the bishop of that diocese took me around, showing me where the environment is being rehabilitated.

Looking at those long pipes carrying slush across virgin land, I had to wonder: how safe and secure is that process?

“What are the risks of spillage, which apart from polluting the earth, could introduce dangerous levels of pollution to the Vaal River catchment area.

“I know that this is something the mines give a lot of attention to; but we in the church have been remiss in not getting ourselves involved in the process.

“As a result we are not in a position to make any responsible judgement about whether the mines are truly meeting their responsibilities.

“Also on the environment, our church has recently decided to consider disinvesting from the fossil fuel industry, so we would urge the industry to explore to its maximum potential the possibility of solar and other renewable energy.

“Thirdly, let me raise the issue of social cohesion. There has been renewed attention in recent days, notably after Thomas Piketty’s Mandela lecture, to the enormous disparities in wealth not only in our society but across the globe.

Churches call for mining sustainability

“Mining industry leaders are seeking to reposition the sector as one that can be a partner for long-term sustainable development with host communities and governments,” Archbishop Makgoba said.

“A key outcome of the global-level discussions held so far has been a recognition that the dialogue needs to be replicated at a local level in regions and countries where mining is an integral part of the socio-economic fabric.

“To begin the conversations in South Africa, I agreed to host today’s meeting and to invite leaders from the mining industry – including both management and labour – to join representatives from the faith communities, civil society and government for a day of conversations.

“About 60 participants were encouraged to share their perspectives and to hear those of others about what is needed to chart a different way forward for how the mining industry contributes to South Africa’s future.

“We shared a commitment to seek collaborative solutions to the problems which threaten the sustainability of mining and the communities in which mines operate. I have every hope that the process which today’s discussion initiates will lead to action to develop creative new models of working constructively together.”

“Those global-level meetings recognised that the dialogue they began, needs to take place at local level, within countries where mining is part of the economic and social fabric of society.

Here in South Africa, we have expanded the conversation to include what I call an inter-faith slant, reflecting the make-up of our particular society.

“And the fact that this conversation takes place within the context of South African society in 2015 also explains why it takes courage to join it. For, as I said a few days ago, when we marched to Parliament and the Presidency in a rally against corruption, too many of us have been intimidated into silence by our current rulers.

“Leaders who showed such courage in what I called the old struggle, the struggle against apartheid, now punish those who would speak out against their mismanagement of our country.”

Makgoba had worked as a psychologist for TEBA at the Rand Mutual Mine Hospital in Eloff Street Extension, where he was looking after miners who had suffered spinal cord injuries.

“We have ecumenical bodies such as the National Religious Association for Social Development, represented here, and the South African Council of Churches, that has done urban and industrial mission.

“One of our objectives today is to acknowledge our shortcomings and our failures, and I want to say that the churches have failed the mining industry, both workers and managers.

“We have failed to take into account how risky mining is economically, one year a market-based success riding high on commodity prices, the next a business in quicksand.

“We have failed to understand the constraints on managers facing the relentless pressure of meeting shareholders’ expectations for better results every quarter, and who have to deal with resistance to social reforms from engineers and line managers responsible for the safe conduct of highly sophisticated and technically complex mining operations.

“There are times in our lives when we have to recognise that our past is what it is, and we cannot change it. However, as I have said previously to some of you, we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.

“I want the process we enter today to be one of lamentation… a refusal to settle for the way things are. It is reminding God that the human situation is not as it should be and that God as the partner in the covenant must act.”

“Each of you must bring your own unique concerns and contributions to this conversation, and what is of overriding importance is that each one of us tries to put ourselves in the shoes of those with whom we are in dialogue.

In his speech, the archbishop said; “The difference between our situation in South Africa and that in more economically developed countries is that, like no other issue we face, this one has the potential to blow our country apart.

“There is an urgent need for all of us – whether different companies in the industry or different groups in the faith community – to stop working in silos in the contexts within which we operate.

Within the industry, mining companies need to join as a collective and raise the bar, especially in the areas of housing, health, schools and poverty alleviation. We acknowledge gratefully that millions have already been poured into these areas by yourselves, and there are complexities to deal with, but might it not work to pour resources into a common fund dedicated for your collective action?

Churches address organised Labour

“Labour, is it not time that we rethink the “class warfare” approach developed in the conditions of 19th century Europe, and look at “co-determination” models of working jointly with management?

“This does not mean that unions lose their right to bargain, but it can involve, for example, the separate representation of workers on management or supervisory boards of companies, such as is practised in a number of European countries.

Churches address mining managers

“Addressing management; is it not time to look at the huge disparity between executive pay and that of workers?

“I know that the amount of money that limiting executive pay would release for an average worker is negligible, but didn’t Nelson Mandela demonstrate to us the enormous power of symbolic action?

“William McDonough, formerly president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and a deputy to Fed chairman Alan Greenspan in the 1990s, had quoted Matthew’s Gospel on loving our neighbour in suggesting that there ought to be “economic and moral limitations on the gaps created by the market-driven reward system”.

“He said of the disparity between executive pay and that of the average American worker that “it is hard to find somebody more convinced than I of the superiority of the American economic system, but I can find nothing in economic theory that justifies this development.”

“My prayer for today is that each of you here will feel that this is a safe space, one in which you can speak your mind honestly, one in which we will listen to and really hear one another, instead of speaking past each other.

“Instead of focusing on micro, mine-specific issues, let’s look at macro, global issues, pursuing the common good as opposed to narrow self-interest.

Welcome to Bishopscourt, home and office to bishops and archbishops of Cape Town since 1848, a home where President Mandela spent his first night after being released from prison, and addressed the nation and the world from the very lawn on which you are seated.

“This property was once an estate owned by Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch settler who came here in the 17th century to establish a refreshment station for passing ships. Scattered on the hill behind us are the remains of a hedge of wild almond trees which the Dutch East India Company planted to keep the likes of me out of their settlement.

“Tansformation can happen after years of oppression.”

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6 thoughts on “Churches play the mining health and safety ball

  1. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
    Colossians 3:2

  2. What an article, it should also extend to the construction industry. I agree with the Arch Bishop something needs to be done to make workplaces safer and there should be a level of certainty, that when an employee leaves for work, he / she will come back in the manner he / she left for work.
    It is a great article.

  3. Well said Archbishop Makgoba! The church down through the ages have been a strong voice for change in the world. We need only to look at our own situation in South Africa, the church was one of the prophetic voices in our country with politicians, businesspeople and religious people saying that the church must keep it’s nose out of politics??? Let the church again be the voice speaking to all in the mining industry concerning safety!!!

  4. The health and safety of employees is vital and not only for production but social responsibilities. Its a well put article and discussions are necessary.

    Health and safety of churches should also be looked at. Especially acoustics of
    charismatic churches.

    1. I fully agree Moraka. The church should first clean it’s own act and then they can pass judgement on other industries. Noise levels inside most charismatic churches often exceed the safe level and exposure for 1 to 3 hours at 110dBA cannot be good for anyone’s hearing. But then again, they can simply restore your hearing by prayer. So why worry?

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