Workers, mines must work together

2013-02-10 10:00

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The Marikana massacre and the subsequent wave of strikes across the mining sector have made many mining houses think again about the wellbeing of their workers and relationships with communities as they come to grips with the link between their own survival and buy-in from stakeholders.

Discussions around sustainability, engagement and social licence regularly came to the fore at the annual Investing in African Mining Indaba, held in Cape Town this week.

The most telling admission came from the chief executive of AngloGold Ashanti, Mark Cutifani, who said during a keynote session on sustainable development that the industry had not focused on local communities to the extent it should have.

“We miss (engaging with) local communities,” said Cutifani, designated to take over the reins at Anglo American. He said it was unfair to expect politicians to sort out all the problems.

“In the information age, when people can see how others are living, but have to sit next to a big hole in the ground and suffer the consequence of what you and I enjoy on a daily basis, you know you’ve got the model wrong. We have to take responsibility for these issues,” he said.

“It is a great gap in the way we operate, and while we may create some local jobs, the rest of the community have to look at the hole, have to sit with the dust and other inconveniences like traffic.”

Cutifani said one of the best strategic decisions AngloGold took to ensure the security of one operation was to provide electricity from its Siguiri mine in Guinea to 100?000 residents in the area.

“The local community wouldn’t let anyone interfere with our operations because, at the end of the day, we provide power to 100?000 people,” he said.

“That’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Cutifani’s speech came after Lonmin chairperson Roger Phillimore last week said at the company’s annual general meeting in London the group had committed to a process of “fundamental change” to rebuild trust with employees and unions.

“We require a collaborative model of decision making that will help to resolve problems and disagreements before they turn into violence,” Phillimore said.

This included the creation of a multiunion recognition structure, seeking ways to allow migrant labourers to return home more often, as well as building more houses.

Lonmin’s acting chief executive, Simon Scott, said this week the group was greatly aware of not deciding or implementing a decision unilaterally.

Asked whether he thought a possible stumbling block during such discussions with workers would be the rejection of a move to be the beneficiaries of houses at the expense of a living-out allowance, Scott said the process would involve a few difficult conversations.

“The conditions (in the surrounding townships) are inhumane, but we can’t implement a solution unilaterally.

“It needs to be done with local authorities?.?.?.?to be done together with other mining houses.”

Earlier this week Gold Fields chairperson Mamphela Ramphele said in a keynote address the mining industry had to come up with a new model.

“We have to accept that the traditional way of mining in South Africa, with its reliance on cheap and low-skilled labour, is over,” she said.

“You better get used to it. It is not sustainable.”

Cutifani said the fractious relationship between the industry and regulator in recent months was not to anyone’s benefit.

“We have some challenges and difficult issues to deal with, yet the industry and government are shouting at each other from our respective corners,” he said.

“We have to put our differences aside and start talking about ways that will change the industry and country for good.”

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