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Social aspects of mine closure are often not well understood, resulting in some companies either avoiding or postponing the development and implementation of sustainable social closure strategies. Delaying planning for social closure may cost companies money and incur reputational damage instead of leaving a lasting positive legacy encompassing sustainable post-mining opportunities for mining-affected communities.
Within the South African context, the concept of social licence to operate is gaining traction and many companies are actively adopting policies and management practices to address this key requirement. Similarly, the value of involving communities in project planning and design to obtain a shared view on how the project will operate and close, and therefore impact on its stakeholders is gaining momentum. The benefits of co-production, a practical approach that can also assist in mitigating the negative social and environmental impacts of mine closure, has shown many benefits. These benefits include pride and a sense of ownership as well as the opportunity to develop tailored solutions that speaks specifically to each affected community.
Co-production can lead to increased innovation and efficiency in the project design, operation and closure, not only with the affected community in mind, but also in collaboration with stakeholders. This process has shown to increase community satisfaction and introduce a greater sense of local ownership, which can be demonstrated by two practical examples discussed in this paper. While companies have an important role to play in contributing to a sustainable post-closure scenario, it is neither possible, nor their sole responsibility, to achieve it alone. It requires multi-stakeholder partnerships where risks, responsibilities and opportunities are shared. By acknowledging the contribution that communities can make in the sustainable operation and closure of mines, mining companies can use the concept of co-production to obtain greater acceptance or approval by local communities and stakeholders of their organisation and its operations, also known as their social licence to operate.
Keywords: social license, social closure, social transitioning, resilience, legacy, co-production
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