Andile Mngxitama wrote a thought provoking article on mineral rights in South Africa, in last week’s Weekender. The article is a wake up call, highlighting the failure of post-1994 democratic governments to follow through on the promise of the Freedom Charter (read it here), that “The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth!”

The Freedom Charter states unequivocally that “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.”

While the nationalization of banks and monopoly industry could reasonably be argued to be counterproductive, ensuring that local communities- if not the nation as a whole- share in the wealth generated from mining the mineral wealth beneath their feet, was reasonable, moral, and achievable.

Mngxitama paints a bleak picture of an ANC government which passed fundamentally unfair legislation (the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002) which institutionalizes disposession of community land and mineral wealth by mining companies. He argues that “the African National Congress (ANC) gave away the nation’s wealth on the cheap for a share of the spoils for a connected few.”

If Mngxitama’s observations are correct impoverished communities exists in an area with the world’s largest known reserves of extremely valuable platinum group metals.

The article is disturbing, but is necessary reading if we are to overstand why inequality and institutionalized poverty and underdevelopment exists alongside vast mineral wealth.