Engaging citizens to address company-community conflict at South African mines

Problem statement. Social conflict erupts in mining regions across the developing world. In South Africa alone, police recorded 10,000 crowd complaints near mines between 2010 and 2013. One common explanation is that mining generates grievances that culminate in protests and riots. Citizens object to environmental degradation, property damage from blasting, and displacement of homes and businesses, among other issues. Where the expected benefits fail to offset these costs, violent conflict can result.

Proposed solution. We propose to evaluate a mobile-based technology developed by the social enterprise Ulula for uncovering and communicating community grievances. Citizens freely and anonymously submit complaint reports related to mining via SMS or voice in their preferred language and that information is disseminated to civil society and companies. By documenting complaints and generating regular information flows between communities and key stakeholders, citizen concerns should be more quickly identified and resolved, mitigating harms and frustrations that can boil over into social conflict. Oxfam South Africa and Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) – a national, grassroots organization – will recruit citizens to use the platform in 75 mining sites and develop plans for local advocacy using the collected reports.

Theory of change. We expect the program to reduce social conflict by (1) giving companies timely, representative information on complaints, enabling quick and effective responses; (2) building trust between companies and citizens when firms do respond; and (3) enabling civil society to exert external pressure. Beyond social conflict, we expect the program to improve well-being in targeted communities by increasing the frequency, quality, and equality of company responses to community concerns.

Learning. We propose to conduct an impact evaluation, identifying 75 pairs of similar mining sites and targeting one site in each pair to join the platform. We will collect data on perceptions, well-being, and social conflict before and after implementation in each pair. In order to learn about the best ways to keep citizens sending reports and companies responding we will experiment with messaging and financial incentives. In a second phase, we will study how to use reports to the platform to advocate for government change effectively.

Research: UCLA (Graeme Blair, Darin Christensen) & Princeton (Renard Sexton); Jameel Poverty Action Lab
Implementation: Oxfam South Africa (Thembinkosi Dlamini, Extractives Lead); Mining Affected Communities United in Action (Meshack Mbangula, Natl. Coordinator)
Technology: Ulula (Antoine Heuty, CEO and Founder)