Where does the buck re­ally stop?

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@ city­press. co. za

Two of labour’s great­est mod­ern tragedies – Aurora and Marikana – pro­vided a media fo­cus over the past cou­ple of weeks. And the latest episodes in these sagas brought to mind two pop­u­lar ex­pres­sions: “The buck stops here” and “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

“The buck stops here” was pop­u­larised by then US pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man, who kept a sign on his desk mak­ing this state­ment. Re­spon­si­bil­ity for de­ci­sions of the ex­ec­u­tive and the state ul­ti­mately rested with him.

It’s a good prin­ci­ple, not of­ten ob­served when it comes to ac­tions that re­flect badly on de­ci­sion mak­ers. And this ap­plies to peo­ple in power in pol­i­tics, busi­ness, trade unions or sport.

The ap­pro­pri­ate phrase for all too many is “Pass the buck”. In other words, they claim that re­spon­si­bil­ity – blame – should be passed on to some­one else.

We’ve seen quite a bit of this buck-pass­ing in both the Aurora and Marikana cases. For all the court de­ci­sions and com­mis­sion find­ings that sup­pos­edly ring in changes, ev­ery­thing at base level re­mains very much the same.

In the case of Aurora, mine work­ers, and there­fore their fam­i­lies, were aban­doned for six years by Aurora Em­pow­er­ment Sys­tems (AES).

The Aurora mine work­ers had worked with­out pay and on prom­ises for months be­fore all work stopped, and they were de­serted. But ac­cord­ing to the AES di­rec­tors, the buck did not stop with them – oth­ers were to blame.

That changed last week with a court find­ing that the di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s nephew Khu­lubuse and Nel­son Man­dela’s grand­son Zondwa, were per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for mis­man­age­ment that also left 5 300 work­ers in the lurch. The buck, the courts ruled, stopped with them.

Sur­viv­ing mine work­ers cel­e­brated this ap­par­ent change in their cir­cum­stances. But cel­e­bra­tions were pre­ma­ture. They con­tinue to live in poverty, with­out work or pay, while the di­rec­tors con­tinue to be ac­cused of flaunt­ing their wealth as they con­tem­plate a le­gal ap­peal.

This tragedy un­folded in full view of a labour move­ment based on the prin­ci­ple that an in­jury to one is an in­jury to all. If ever there was a cause to rally around and to de­mand ac­tion from the pow­ers that be, this was it.

But lit­tle was done as the mine work­ers starved and the mines were pil­laged. To­day, the same con­di­tions of des­per­a­tion and ab­ject poverty are still in place.

The same ap­plies in min­ing com­mu­ni­ties ev­ery­where. Yet the mas­sacre at Marikana and the events lead­ing up to it were rightly re­garded as a wake-up call to gov­ern­ment at all lev­els, and to tra­di­tional author­i­ties, the min­ing com­pa­nies and to unions.

Three years down the line, the Far­lam com­mis­sion of in­quiry de­liv­ered Judge Ian Far­lam’s re­port to Pres­i­dent Zuma. He fi­nally re­leased it last week.

What the re­port in­di­cates is that the buck has been passed to what one le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the hear­ing refers to as “the low-hang­ing fruit” – po­lice of­fi­cials and oth­ers (un­named) who may have caused death and in­jury.

And so the buck con­tin­ues to be passed. How­ever, the wake-up call about the un­der­ly­ing causes of the shame that is Marikana re­main un­changed, and not just at that Lon­min mine.

Twenty-one years af­ter the for­mal tran­si­tion from apartheid, util­i­tar­ian hos­tels re­main. And the slums that sur­round the mines are an in­dict­ment of the mea­gre “liv­ing-out” al­lowances pro­vided by com­pa­nies to avoid pro­vid­ing more costly but de­cent hous­ing.

But over­all re­spon­si­bil­ity for all these mat­ters rests at the high­est level. And that is where the buck should stop if any­thing is re­ally go­ing to change.

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