What does ‘enfranchisement’ mean in the context of small-scale miners? This was the question that opened proceedings at the Alternative Mining Indaba’s panel on artisanal and small-scale mining last week, and the presents a useful frame for how we take the discussion forward from here.

It was a great privilege to be invited to join the “Practical Steps to Enfranchising Small-Scale Miners in 2021” panel at this year’s event, and I was grateful for the fascinating contributions from my co-panelists, Dr Jane Munakamwe and Sandile Nombeni. Dr Jane leads the Mining Institute at Wits University and has written and researched extensively on the formal and informal mining sectors in Southern Africa, with a focus on how gold markets operate – often excluding or exploiting small-scale miners. Sandile offered excellent experience from the perspective of small-scale miners, lending piercing insight into formalisation, the wants and needs of small-scale mining communities derived from the work he leads through the 360 Degrees Environmental Organisation.

The topics of markets and formalisation are two topics very close to the heart of the work that we are leading through dcc Africa more generally but take on a new significance in our mining investment programme in Tanzania through our subsidiary dcc Gold. dcc Gold has extended our wider mission to strengthening the overall investment environment in Tanzania, and to become a reference point for a new model of meaningful foreign investment. While there are business and economic volatilities that affect even the best of intentions, meeting our aims relies in practice on one thing: inclusiveness of our offer, which is to say ‘enfranchisement’.

And that starts with looking at what is ‘exclusive’ about the current set up. One of the topics that our panel touched on time and time again was the distinction between legal and illegal mining. But I want to reframe that distinction to look at the differences between criminal and unlawful mining activity at a small scale. I have been to visit every mine site that we work on, and in most instances, I meet people there, working the land on the fringes, who – strictly speaking – have no lawful right to be there. But these are not criminals. These are committed, well intentioned people trying to make a living. So, the first step towards enfranchisement is creating a framework that removes the criminal determination from informal, independent efforts. This is what we are working towards in Tanzania, and I believe it’s model that can be scaled and shared in other emerging mining economies across Africa.

In our AMI panel, I was grateful to be invited to speak about these practical commitments, and how the structuring of a new market approach could meet the needs of foreign investors, government entities, and local mining communities alike. What we are doing in the gold belt in Tanzania is setting up gold buying centres connected to gold processing facilities and inviting small-scale miners to bring their run of mine for safe, secure processing. We also meet with individual miners and mining communities provide machinery and training to aid with ease of processing, cutting down on the use of dangerous chemicals and practices. Working with us brings miners ‘inside the tent’ so we can provide bank accounts, paperwork for their products, and a legal, transparent, and fair off-take process that ultimately makes a positive contribution to the fiscus.

We work with miners to ensure paperwork around land ownership and mining licences is all clarified and properly filed, strengthening the lawful basis for their independent activities, and providing the ability to formalise co-operatives and create shareholdings that work collaboratively. We have to ensure that a process of enfranchisement does not eventually become a process of replacement, but on this point, I’m reminded of a question asked of my co-panelist Sandile Nombeni around enfranchisement: is there actually a willingness among small-scale mining communities to formalise? ‘99.9999%’, he said.

I’m careful not to generalise or make assumptions, but it reflects my own experience from Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania that there is a willingness to change the model, as long as the model offers a tangible, genuine benefit. We are planning now to welcome 1,000 artisanal and small-scale miners into our network in Tanzania, and we have led conversations in Zambia to explore a similar model. My view is that we have to lead by example and demonstrating that a new way of doing things is not only possible, but popular too.

dcc Africa is very grateful to the Alternative Mining Indaba for the opportunity to contribute to an important discussion, and we hope that there will be other platforms throughout the year upon which some of the points raised in our first conversation can be developed. We are committed to demonstrating a positive, sincere contribution to new models and new thinking in small-scale mining and look forward to continuing this journey together.