Marikana: Picking up the pieces after the 2012 tragedy

2015-04-19 15:00

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Lonmin’s CEO details the steps taken to improve a deeply fraught relationship with his company’s workforce

Over the past two years, I have been part of the team at our company that has been involved in picking up the pieces in the wake of the August 2012 Marikana tragedy.

Miners protest at their gathering point on a hill in Marikana, demanding higher wages in August 2012. The strike culminated in tragedy when police gunned them down, killing 34. Picture: Leon Sadiki

It has been a profoundly humbling experience working with organised labour and other stakeholders to achieve a semblance of normality while tackling the often seemingly intractable social, cultural and economic problems that are too big and complicated for any of the social partners to take on alone.

These problems are not unique to Lonmin. Nearly everyone agrees Marikana was a turning point for the industry and country. The report by the Marikana Commission of Inquiry will doubtlessly contain much wisdom for us all to learn from.

Meanwhile, what have we learnt from our own reflections? What, if anything, are we doing differently?

The lessons of Marikana are complex and multifaceted. Some are specific to Lonmin, some are industry linked while others are regional, national or even international in nature. If we are to ensure that Marikana doesn’t happen again, we all – labour, business, government and civil society – need to play a part in addressing the issues. And quickly.

But in dealing with our challenges, we should not lose sight of the fact that the materials our industry produces and the economic activity we generate are an essential part of improving our world. Mining has made an enormous positive contribution to society.

Picking up the pieces after Marikana has been particularly challenging considering the often conflicting demands of various stakeholders. But if there’s one thing I have learnt from all of this, it is that you ignore dissenting voices at your peril.

The key to changing perceptions lies in the concept of shared value. This is a concept that cannot be achieved overnight and requires a fundamental shift in our approach to the way we engage with each other. It starts with the simple act of talking to each other.

And it had to start at the top. I spent my first 100 days at Lonmin simply listening to employees. We were there at 4am to greet the morning shift and again at 10pm to talk to the night shift.

We spoke to rock-drill operators, winch operators, nurses, miners, managers, supervisors and heads of departments. Our question to all was: what do we need to stop, start and stay doing to make our company profitable, safe and sustainable, and in whose success we all, including the communities around our operations, feel committed to?

This question encountered apathy, cynicism and, in many cases, deep trauma. The temptation to allow these exercises to be eclipsed by operational demands was enormous. But – 18 months later – I believe we have made a good start.

We now treat staff as employees first and union members second. We empowered managers to take back relationships with their own teams.

Functional partnerships with the chosen leaders of our employees are crucial to our collective success.

Last year, I addressed a mass meeting of employees, sharing the stage with union representatives, in which I outlined our vision of shared value. This symbolic act signalled our intention to partner with organised labour to make this a sustainable business.

We have agreed with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union a relationship charter that sets the tone for our future interactions. Working with organised labour, we also stepped up our efforts to address employee indebtedness by tackling unlawful lending practices, an initiative we introduced in 2013.

By providing free, confidential access to independent professionals, we have managed to put R5.2?million back into employees’ pockets each month – primarily by negotiating reduced interest rates and fighting illegal emolument attachment orders.

There are also the two most complex legacy issues: housing and migrant labour. The latter is a classic wicked problem. How do we satisfy the demand for job opportunities from local people without causing deep economic hardship in traditional labour-sending areas?

On housing, we have partnered with the North West government to deliver more than 400 affordable houses in Marikana on 52 hectares of serviced land donated by Lonmin. Government contributed R462?million to this project. We also completed the conversions of hostels to single and family accommodation units, and have set aside a further R500?million to build rental apartments on mine property for employees.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, we focused on the widows and children of the employees who so tragically lost their lives. In providing financial and emotional support, my team and I visited some of them in their homes in the Eastern Cape and elsewhere. These were not easy conversations, but we had to have them. We have subsequently employed at least one family member or representative of each late employee, and every child of schoolgoing age has access to our education trust.

We have engaged extensively in the communities. Beyond ward councillors, we have met civic and religious leaders, including youth, women’s organisations and environmental groups, to understand their concerns and share the details of our social and labour plan. We have listened and engaged on what we can and cannot do to contribute to sustainable broad-based social and economic development. The established community and employee share schemes form part of this overall exercise.

But for value to be shared, it needs to be created. We need to counter the populist notion that profits are unimportant – or even immoral. But we can only do that if we deliver on our commitments to shared value.

The events of August 2012 set us on a path of fundamental change. Have we done enough? Almost certainly not, and we will no doubt wander down a few blind alleys in our quest for workable solutions to the problems that beset our industry and society.

In the words of Christo Nel’s Transformation Without Sacrifice: “To be a leader is to be ignorant and incompetent. Change of any magnitude automatically means we have to let go of the things we know how to do and implement things that are new and different.”

The time for new and different is now.

Magara is CEO of Lonmin

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