“Not just showing up, but participating”

30 November 2021

By Amy Fallon with contributions from Mashudu Masutha and Matshidiso Dibakwane from Corruption Watch

South Africa’s Corruption Watch is designing information materials tailored to women across the country to encourage and enable them to contribute meaningfully to discussions about mining.

In KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), a South African coastal province where the local economy depends on mining, a woman’s cell phone beeps. She’s been sent an important survey via a data-free link called an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). Using this platform to send messages, like a standard text message (SMS), she can fill out and send back the survey for free.

The survey, designed by Corruption Watch, the South African Chapter of Transparency International, will enable her to share her own perspective about the mining application process. Corruption Watch can then use this information to help women like her participate more meaningfully in the process.

In less than three minutes, she’ll send back the survey, which is in her local dialect and features simple questions with “yes” or “no” answers. These include queries such as whether she’s aware that a mining company has applied for a licence to mine in her community. She is also asked whether she has attended any community meetings to discuss mining projects and if not, why.

Across South Africa, many women are too busy working or carrying out household chores to attend meetings about mining operations – even though participating in these meetings could help them have a say on how projects are conducted. Men will often complete documents on behalf of their wives, sisters, or aunts – grassroots organisations have told Corruption Watch. Even when women are able to attend gatherings, they may fear speaking up, instead taking home forms and handing them to their husbands.

To qualitatively assess how much women are participating in consultations about mining projects and exercising their rights, Corruption Watch designed three surveys on mining prospecting, operations and closures, which will run until the second half of 2022. The surveys are also being used to gather data to create a best practice guide for communities when engaging with the government, private sector, authorities and mining companies in the licensing process. This will be released next year.

“In South Africa, and in other countries as TI’s Accountable Mining programme has found, the participation of women in forums related to the licensing process has been simply ‘ticking off a box’ rather than meaningful engagement with women to empower them to advance their rights,” says Mashudu Masutha, legal researcher in extractives at Corruption Watch.

“Through these targeted surveys we can gather crucial information to ensure that when it comes to the licensing process, women are not only at the table but that they are able to fully take part in a valuable way.”



The idea for the surveys came from meetings that Corruption Watch held with six diverse mining-affected communities in 2020 about their understanding of how mining projects are approved. In some areas, like Limpopo, women’s voices are heard and championed. But in the KZN meeting, the women who attended were not as vocal as the men. The surveys were conceived as a way to make sure that all women in all communities can contribute and indicate how much they know about the awarding of mining licences.

“Some mine-affected communities in South Africa face dire poverty despite housing immense mineral wealth,” says ​Matshidiso Dibakwane, a lawyer at Corruption Watch.​

“We don’t want a situation where we’re trying to develop a guide for communities that is informed by local views and needs, but the cost of contributing to this is obstructive to communities themselves, which is why we used tools like the cost-free USSD link,” says Mashudu.

The surveys have been intentionally designed in six local languages. Corruption Watch has also distributed mining licence process maps and infographics that allow women to become better informed about the steps involved in the licensing process.

The first round of distribution involved sending out the survey via SMS and WhatsApp to 517 people who had previously attended Corruption Watch meetings, using the data-free link. The second stage meant sending them out to a larger group of mine-affected communities using the USSD string in collaboration with national carrier, Vodacom. To expand the number of participants, CW linked one survey to their Facebook page.

Almost half of those who took part in the survey (39%) were female.

“There has been a lot of enthusiasm among women in the areas that Corruption Watch is targeting about completing these questionnaires,” says Mashudu.

The findings released so far reinforce the understanding that there are ascribed gender roles in mine-affected communities and men and women are impacted disproportionately by the mining approvals process.

“In order to create meaningful change within mine-affected communities, it is important to be aware of gender relations within them,” says Mashudu.

“We need to understand these and tailor information to women in mine-affected areas in order to work with them meaningfully.”

Photo: Flickr/Corruption Watch