20 years later and the MIT has bucked the trend

2015-04-19 15:00

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Mamello Masote speaks to Simphiwe Nanise of the Mineworkers’ Investment Trust

Simphiwe Nanise is glad that 20 years since the Mineworkers’ Investment Trust (MIT) was established, it has ­escaped the curse of collapsed union investment companies scattered throughout the country’s history.

Just last month, the 120?000-member SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) was faced with the threat of liquidation because it owed R30?million to its investment company – which had already been liquidated.

Saccawu represents workers in major retail stores such as Pick n Pay and is an affiliate of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), which had to intervene to avoid the liquidation of the union. Cosatu’s ­investment arm, Kopano Ke Matla, has faced its own allegations of corruption.

“Other similar entities that have been established before or after us have not survived up to this point, and others have collapsed because of corruption. Luckily, in our case, we have never had that situation,” says Nanise, the chief operating officer of the MIT, who has been in the position since 2000.

He says the downfall of union investment companies in many cases is because there is no separation between the activities of the union and that of the investment arm.

The MIT was established in 1995 by the National Union of Mineworkers and it began with seed funding of R3?million. The trust then established the Mineworkers’ Investment Company (MIC), with the MIT as the only shareholder.

The MIC took advantage of the flurry of BEE transactions at the time and made itself available as a BEE partner.

Some of the companies to which the MIC is a BEE partner include hotels, casinos and resorts business Peermont (25% stake); media group Primedia (21.7% stake); and leading vehicle tracking company ­Tracker (30% stake).

“Through this the investment company earned dividends, which it then pays to the trust on an annual basis. The trust in return has beneficiary organisations from which members of the union benefit.”

The net asset value of the MIT, through the MIC, is about R4?billion.

The flagship programme of the trust is the JB Marks Education Trust Fund, which is, in essence, a bursary scheme that provides funds for the ­children of mine workers as well as the mine workers themselves.

“The bursary scheme has supported about 4?000 beneficiaries and we have had 830 graduates in various fields: about 15 of whom are medical doctors. And we have lawyers, engineers, accountants and economists,” says Nanise.

There are certain degrees that are prioritised. These are qualifications that are relevant to the mining, construction and engineering sector – but the fund also provides support for other qualifications not listed as a priority.

“We can’t just complain about lack of transformation in the sector and then we don’t produce the people who will transform the sector,” he says.

One area where transformation has been stuttering is gender transformation in the mining sector. And, in fact, the MIT’s research institute – started in 2013 – is looking at this very issue.

“We are currently busy researching the challenges facing women in the workplace, especially in the mining sector, and we are hoping the report will be ready by the third quarter of this year.

“This can be used by union leaders who can engage employers on well-researched data,” says Nanise.

In a time of high unemployment in the country and labour shrinkage in the mining sector, the MIT started the Mineworkers’ Development Agency (MDA) in 2013 in an effort to assist mine workers who are retrenched.

Though the MDA does not offer money, it does provide a space for out-of-work mine workers to learn a new skill or start a business that will help them survive.

“They tell us what skills they require, and then we provide the skills,” says Nanise.

“Most of the people say they want to do farming, so we train them how to turn the investment they make into something that will help them survive.”

Nanise has been a union man pretty much all his life. “I joined the union in 1986 as an organiser, but I was in several different positions in the union until I became the regional coordinator.”

In 2000, he was dispatched to the MIT and has been there ever since.

While some may question the wisdom of a union investment company being both a boss and a representative of workers, Nanise says the MIT avoids ­being tripped up by this ethical dilemma by applying a strict policy of separation.

“We invest in whatever field gives us a good return – except in sectors where the union is organised. So this includes the mining and construction sectors. It wouldn’t make sense for us to become owners in sectors where we are also the union.”

To avoid falling into the web of corruption that has trapped other union investment companies, ­Nanise says the MIC is treated as an independent firm with its own independent board. Also, he says, the trust and the union are kept wholly separate.

“We also make sure we have the right skills to ­ensure we have strong boards for our various ­divisions,” he says.

In his 15 years at the MIT, Nanise is haunted by a single regret.

“The demand is higher than what we can offer. Every year we can give away 200 bursaries, but you end up getting 1?000 applicants. It shows there is a need out there that we cannot meet because of the limited resources.”

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