Newsmaker – Elize Strydom and Zimisele Ponti: The gold peacemakers

2013-09-08 14:00

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Elize Strydom and Zimisele Ponti were at the heart of this week’s painless deal.

Elize Strydom, the Chamber of Mines’ chief negotiator for gold producers, has had a tough week.

Despite the fact that the 55-year-old Pretoria resident has been the chief negotiator for over a decade, she still approaches negotiations with a sense of “high alert”.

This is not because she’s usually the only woman in a room full of male executives and unionists, but from the tension of negotiating at a tough time for the ­industry.

Negotiating, she says, is a very difficult skill, which even her experience as a lawyer and a PhD in labour law did not prepare her for.

“It’s one thing to know the law, another thing to negotiate. To be in negotiations, knowing the law is helpful?.?.?.?It was a steep learning curve for me. As a lawyer, your training is that something is right or wrong, it’s white or it’s black. And then you have to learn that most things are actually grey,” she says.

“Negotiations require very different skills. It requires preparedness to listen and to listen with an open heart. To sit there genuinely and say: Let me hear this person, what is this person saying, and what is this person not saying?” she says.

The sense of urgency present during this week’s strike was evidenced by its quick resolution. It began on Monday and ended Friday.

Mining company CEOs attended the talks at the Chamber of Mines last weekend – but at caucus, rather than plenary level – which Strydom says hasn’t ­happened in years.

Their involvement, she says, signals that they took the talks seriously and were focused on getting an agreement and stabilising the sector.

Before the unlawful platinum mine strikes spilled over to gold mines last year in the wake of the Marikana tragedy, the gold sector had not suffered a ­protracted work stoppage since the two-week strike of 1987.

On Thursday morning, employers ­tabled a revised offer of an 8% increase on basic salaries for entry-level workers and 7.5% for the rest.

They also offered to increase the living-out or housing allowance to R2?000 per month by next year.

This proved to be the deal maker as many workers accepted it after consultations with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.

While Strydom has never married and has no children or pets, she also uses the long commute to keep in touch with her mother and siblings.

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