SECURING the goodwill of communities in which mines are based was yesterday described as one of the key points coming out of a three-day Mining Dialogues 360 Degrees conference under the auspices of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

The dialogue comes after the African National Congress's (ANC's) policy conference at the end of last month that gave the sector little clarity on its future. The conference was reported to be divided over the issue of nationalising mines, a factor that has weighed on investor sentiment towards SA as an investment destination over the past few years.

The ANC would by its elective conference in December come up with a policy on the minerals sector, which is likely to entail greater levels of state involvement and higher demands on mining companies.

Issues that came up in every session were mining companies and communities and the need for more to be done to ensure those communities saw tangible benefits of having these operations nearby.

Other points raised at the dialogues were that there needed to be trust between the government, industry, labour and communities. SA needed new ways to close the skills gap, remove policy uncertainty damaging SA as an investment destination, and that research and development in mining technology needed to be re-established.

One of the reasons for mines to have greater community involvement was that there had been a breakdown in central government's ability to transfer the benefits of mining in the fiscus to a broad range of people, said Richard Linnell, who is on the dialogues' steering committee. "Where governments are effective and strong, you can trust the central government to look after your communities.

"You can then deal with a lot of specific community issues," he said.

"The level of policy and directive misses our communities, and it's becoming more and more important for our legitimacy to exist. That is why a lot more attention is going into satisfying communities ."

Luke Danielson, a mining and minerals policy researcher and professor, said in his experience the more deeply mining companies engaged communities, the better it was for all. "My suggestion is that if there's trouble at a high level, perhaps building social consensus at a local and community level will create the conditions for that high level engagement in the future."

saccombea@bdfm.co.za