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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Skorpion Zinc Project Case Study - Namibia


This case study describes the efforts of an independent professional team working with South African and Namibian specialists to identify and address environmental and public health and safety concerns related to the development of a zinc mine and refinery in south western Namibia. The public participation process, which was initiated during the environmental assessment exercise and continued into the implementation and construction phase of the project, involved a broad range of Namibian stakeholders. This case illustrates that there may be tensions between the interests of local and national stakeholders on projects of national significance, and that ensuring the participation of local stakeholders may require a concerted and sustained effort. This project took place in the context of a yet untested Namibian legal and policy framework and therefore served as a learning environment for subsequent efforts.

Sponsoring Agencies

  • Independent professional team led by Walmsley Environmental Consultants
  • South African and Namibian specialists

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The Skorpian Zinc mine is located in south-western Namibia. At the time of the environmental assessment, access to the proposed project site had been prohibited for many years due to its location within the diamond mining area of Sperrgebiet, and the site was therefore pristine. The site and the general surrounding area is home to rare species and has many specialized habitats associated with moisture-trapping rocky outcrops.

The economy of the region is based mostly on mining and farming with small contributions from tourism. The mining town of Rosh Pinah is the closest settlement to the site; at the time of the environmental assessment, it was an unofficial mining village (lead and zinc mines) on government land that was managed by the Rosh Pinah Zinc Corporation (RPZC). RPZC owned facilities and accommodations in the settlement and exercised some degree of control over activities taking place in the area. At that time, some 640 people lived in Rosh Pinah and several hundred additional people lived in an informal settlement alongside the mine. Farming occurs in the areas outside of Rosh Pinah. Farms are large and the area if very sparsely populated due to its arid nature, and farmers often travel long distances to access services.

The isolated nature of Rosh Pinah, surrounding settlements, and the farming community contributed to a general resistance to change. While the mine was likely to produce significant economic benefits to the region, it also included the prospect of bringing about perceived deleterious changes. These included potential biophysical impacts on the area as well as potentially significant negative social impacts on area residents.

The environmental assessment and public participation activities occurred within the context outlined above. The environmental assessment investigated a broad range of issues, impacts, and benefits in detail. Numerous specialist studies were conducted, including social and economic assessments, flora and fauna assessments, an air quality investigation, and a hydrogeological assessment. Public participation activities were conducted throughout the project, beginning during the assessment phase and concluding during the construction phase of the project.

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Public Participation Goal and Level

Sponsor agencies selected the Consult level of public participation for the Skorpian Zinc Project project (see the spectrum of public participation (PDF) (1 pp, 755 K, About PDF)). Exit

The public participation goals were to:

  • Provide information to stakeholders on the project;
  • Discuss alternatives and identify issues and constraints;
  • Identify the scope of the environmental assessment and discuss the methodology and approach;
  • Identify additional interested and affected parties;
  • Obtain relevant data; and,
  • Provide feedback on the findings of the assessment and solicit comment.

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Public Participation Approach

At the time of the environmental assessment, Namibia had a substantial but relatively untested legal and policy framework for addressing issues surrounding environmental protection and public participation. Included in this framework is the Minerals Act, which requires that a request for a mining license include a write-up on the condition of the existing environment, an estimate of impacts and proposed mitigation measures, and details regarding pollution control and waste management. Also included in this framework is Namibia’s Environmental Assessment Policy, which aims to accomplish the following:

  • Inform decision makers and promote accountability for decisions;
  • Enable a broad range of options and alternatives to be considered;
  • Ensure a high degree of public participation and involvement by all sectors of the Namibian public; and
  • Promote sustainable development, and ensure that costs and benefits are taken into account and that internationally recognized standards are promoted. In addition negative, secondary, and cumulative impacts must be minimized and benefits enhanced.

The specific objectives for the Skorpion Zinc Environmental Assessment process included:

  • Minimizing the negative aspects of the mine and its infrastructure;
  • Maximizing the socio-economic benefits of the mine;
  • Working with the mine planning and design project team on an interactive basis; and
  • Consulting with stakeholders to ensure their needs and concerns were considered.

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Specific Public Participation Tools and Techniques Used

The environmental assessment process comprised three phases, including a scoping study, baseline information gathering, and the actual environmental assessment. Public participation activities took place during the scoping study and the environmental assessment and continued after the completion of the environmental assessment phase. Communication with stakeholders continued through the construction phase of the project.

Sponsor agencies employed the following techniques.

  • Dissemination of information, such as documents, minutes, summaries and newsletters;
  • Individual/personal meetings;
  • Meetings and workshops with government officials;
  • Public meetings;
  • Public open houses; and
  • Establishment of a forum of key stakeholders.

Sponsor agencies conducted the following public participation activities.

  • During initial scoping, issues were solicited from stakeholders through a series of meetings, questionnaires and interviews. Government officials and other stakeholders such as RPZC management and labor unions were consulted through individual meetings. Two initial public meetings were held in July 1997. Invitations were sent to stakeholders and the meetings were advertised in local newspapers. Minutes of the meetings were distributed to attendees. Consultants initially contacted over 100 people from at least 45 organizations.
  • This first round of consultation was followed by a series of information meetings with Rosh Pinah residents through the auspices of the RPZC in February 1998. A series of individual meetings were also held with farmers in the area. Information on the environmental assessment process, the project and the preliminary findings was presented and issues solicited from residents. Residents were notified of the meeting through an RPZC local newsletter delivered to all houses in the village and through flyers in English and Afrikaans distributed in the town. The meetings were largely conducted in English, although translation into Afrikaans was provided as required.
  • Following completion of baseline studies and the environmental assessment, a further round of public meetings was held in August 1998 with key authorities and stakeholders to provide feedback on the findings of the assessment. Meetings were held in Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, and Rosh Pinah. Identified stakeholders were invited to the meetings and advertisements were placed in local newspapers and announced on radio stations.
  • On completion of the environmental impact assessment, stakeholders were kept informed through the release of Project Information Circulars. During the construction phase, a focus was placed on environmental communication. A newsletter, the “Skorpion’s Tale,” was developed, which provided information on project progress. The newsletter was distributed to stakeholders, government officials, and through the RPZC as well as shops in Rosh Pinah.
  • An environmental forum, the Rosh Pinah Environmental Forum (RPEF), was established during construction to address the cumulative impacts and issues associated with the various construction activities in the area. The RPEF provided a forum in which issues raised by stakeholder could be addressed. These included the construction of the power line, pipeline, roads, as well as other exploration programs. The forum included Skorpion Zinc and RPZC representatives, two officials from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, farmers, and residents of Rosh Pinah.

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The public participation process contributed to the overall success of the project. The process enabled project sponsors to identify and address stakeholder issues. For example, these included:

  • The possible influx of those seeking work and stress on the already-weak Rosh Pinah infrastructure. This issue had the potential to reduce the effectiveness of the public participation process as it could have dominated discussion at public events. Stakeholders recommended that a central labor bureau be established in a location removed from the town where people could apply for work on the Skorpian Zinc project. Skorpion subsequently made a policy decision that “off the street” casual labor would not be employed by project contractors and set up a labor bureau in Keetmanshoop (a town northeast of Rosh Pinah).
  • Dust impacts from the mine and access road. Stakeholders identified dust and safety issues early in the environmental assessment process. This resulted in recommendations from the environmental assessment consultants to pave the access road, which was eventually done.

The public participation process resulted in more open communication between the government, the company, and various stakeholder groups. Further, this public participation process was one of the first to deal with Namibia’s environmental policy and it served as a learning environment for future similar endeavors.

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Lessons Learned

This project demonstrates the importance of engaging the public early in the project so that issues can be identified and subsequently investigated as a part of the environmental assessment. In this case, the public involved a diverse range of stakeholders from the surrounding region and Namibia as a whole; public outreach and participation activities were not confined to the immediate stakeholders surrounding the site. This was due to the significance of the project to the national economy, as well as the importance of the sensitive ecosystem in the proposed project area.

While broad participation was essential given the scope of the project, the involvement of the community most directly affected by the project – Rosh Pinah – posed some challenges. Contact was initially limited to RPZC Mine Management and discussions with trade unions. When project consultants eventually did communicate with residents of Rosh Pinah, it was often through the auspices of RPZC. Open meetings were only held in the town approximately six months after the initial Scoping Meetings for the project had been held in Windhoek and Lüderitz (cities hundreds of miles from the proposed mine site). This is not ideal given that Rosh Pinah residents were one of the stakeholder groups most likely to be impacted upon by the new mine.

The lack of involvement of many of the Rosh Pinah residents meant that opportunities to actively involve these stakeholders in discussing potential social impacts and identifying means of mitigating them were essentially lost. A Skorpion employee noted that the socio-economic impacts associated with the establishment of the mine and refinery were not as effectively addressed as the biophysical impacts. Given the nature of the Rosh Pinah stakeholders, a more effective participation technique may have been the use of individual and group meetings with smaller groups of stakeholders.

The establishment of the Skorpion Zinc mine and refinery resulted in significant changes in Rosh Pinah. In the short term there was a large influx of contractors into the town. Many stakeholders commented that people in the town felt “invaded.” In the longer term, the establishment of the Skorpion Zinc mine and refinery resulted in a larger community, as well as better infrastructure and services. A divide subsequently developed in the community between the “old” Rosh Pinah residents and Skorpion Zinc employees.

More general lessons learned from the Skorpion Zinc project that contributed to its success and are also highlighted by problems experienced in the process include:

  • Involve the full spectrum of stakeholders and appropriate ‘level’ of stakeholders, such as local and national stakeholders. The Skorpion Zinc project involved stakeholders from national government down to local farmers which was appropriate given the national nature of the project and the very local nature of certain impacts.
  • Communicate with stakeholders throughout the project. Stakeholders received information updates throughout the environmental assessment process and during the construction phases, which assisted with managing expectations, building trust and credibility and effectively implementing the outcomes of the environmental assessment process.
  • Actively follow-up on and address stakeholder issues and concerns. It builds trust and credibility and ensures stakeholder concerns are integrated into project outcomes, thus contributing to the sustainability of the project.
  • Consider conducting parallel negotiation processes on issues that are related to, but should not form part of, the environmental assessment process directly. The Skorpion Zinc Project addressed labor issues in a separate process of negotiation with government and unions.
  • Ensure the participation of marginalized communities. Participation of such communities may be limited by a range of factors including “gate keepers,” language, and culture.
  • Commitment to the integrity of the environmental assessment process by the development proponent contributes significantly to the success of the process. Skorpion Zinc was committed to the process, which resulted in serious attempts to address issues raised by the public and environmental process. This contributed to the overall sustainability of the project.

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.


For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:

Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460