The mining world’s on her shoulders

2012-10-13 17:20

Dr Elize Strydom apologises before we start a telephonic interview on Wednesday morning.

“Excuse me if I cough in your ear, Sizwe. I’ve got bronchitis.”

I panic as I think she’s about to offer another apology – for bailing out of the interview. I ask if she needs more time, only to hear she’s raring to go.

“No. We’d better do it now. I have many meetings to attend,” she says.

Strydom is the senior executive for employment relations at the SA Chamber of Mines, as well as being a labour law and industrial relations expert with a string of legal qualifications.

Her bronchitis is a side-effect of working around the clock to rescue the country’s mining industry from virtual collapse after illegal strikes.

This week she negotiated with unions on behalf of three of the chambers’ members – AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony – the three giants of the country’s gold-mining industry, with 80% of the entire gold workforce between them.

On Tuesday, she hammered out a wage increase proposal with unions the National Union of Mineworkers, Solidarity and Uasa.

She emphasises, though, that the proposed deal was within the parameters of existing wage agreements.

The unions are consulting their members about the new offer and negotiations will resume tomorrow.

She’s been involved in complex wage disputes for the past 10 years and Strydom says the recent ones have been “very stressful”.

“It has been hard going. We’re all aware of how important these engagements are and how critical it is to restore normality as soon as possible.

“It’s in the best interests of the employees, the employers and the country,” she says.

Strydom’s colleagues regard her as a highly knowledgeable and skilful negotiator.

She’s also known to be very empathetic, but still unshakeable.

The chamber’s stakeholder relations senior executive Vusi Mabena says: “Elize knows her subject very well.

“She’s an honest negotiator and very difficult to shift from her mandate. She’s a good listener too, there’s empathy in how she does things.”

She’s well-liked outside the boardroom and “a jolly person who gets along well with people,” Mabena says.

After 17 minutes on the phone Strydom apologises profusely.

“Sorry, Sizwe, I’ve to go. A lot of people are coming into my office.”

She’s off to another meeting.

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