Wage deal the re­sult of en­abling fac­tors

CityPress - - Business - BEN MAGARA busi­ness@city­press.co.za

When I got a call from Roger Phillimore, the then chair­man of Lon­min, to in­vite me to be­come CEO, I was bungee-jump­ing at Vic­to­ria Falls, on the bor­der of Zam­bia and Zim­babwe.

My son an­swered the phone and said: “My fa­ther has just jumped off the bridge.” Roger was shocked, imag­in­ing the worst. I took the leap and joined Lon­min af­ter the 2012 Marikana tragedy. Many of my friends won­dered where I got the courage to con­front such a beast. You could say my child­hood pre­pared me for Marikana. It was spent in Bikita, in the Masvingo prov­ince of Zim­babwe. My fa­ther had 17 chil­dren.

One of my brothers, who has since passed on, was a fighter in the Chimurenga, the Zim­babwe Lib­er­a­tion War. Union lead­ers re­mind me of him, of how com­mit­ted and dar­ing he was. And of this no­tion: if a man is pre­pared to lose his life for a cause, your job as leader is to find a higher, more spiritual pur­pose to as­pire to.

An­other of my brothers is a church min­is­ter. He is the beacon of pa­tience and com­pas­sion in the fam­ily.

When it was my turn to go to high school, my fa­ther ran out of money. I was sad, as I saw my dream of be­com­ing a bus driver dis­si­pate. So, for a year I herded cat­tle. It taught me hu­mil­ity. Once you’ve been there, you can­not look down on any­one.

I was only six months in my job as head of Lon­min, in 2014, when the mine work­ers em­barked on a pro­tracted strike that would last five months. It was a per­fect storm: a fledg­ling union in the plat­inum belt, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu), was flex­ing its mus­cle, an­gry that so many of its work­ers had been mas­sa­cred in 2012. Now work­ers were sink­ing deeper into debt, and loan sharks were tak­ing full ad­van­tage of their dire fi­nan­cial state.

My min­ing en­gi­neer­ing de­gree did not pre­pare me for that. While I was com­fort­able un­der­ground, I now found my­self hav­ing to solve so­ciopo­lit­i­cal is­sues.

I went into the sit­u­a­tion know­ing we were hu­man be­ings first, be­fore em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees, and that if there were hu­man be­ings at Lon­min, we would find each other. And we did.

I knew that three en­abling fac­tors were cru­cial if we were to suc­cess­fully end the strike and the un­der­ly­ing strife. First, it would take team ef­fort. Sec­ond, although the dif­fer­ent fac­tions had dif­fer­ent goals, the pri­mary vi­sion had to be the same for ne­go­ti­a­tions to suc­ceed. And third, we all had to keep the mine go­ing so that 38 000 work­ers could keep their jobs and feed their fam­i­lies.

The demise of Lon­min could have turned Marikana – and the en­tire Madibeng mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the North West – into a ghost town overnight. The ef­fect on our econ­omy would have been too ghastly to con­tem­plate.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions are not a sin­gu­lar event, but the re­sult of a lengthy process based on re­spect, trust, in­tegrity and read­ily shared in­for­ma­tion to en­sure we read from the same page. If any of these el­e­ments is miss­ing, it will be im­pos­si­ble to reach agree­ment.

This week, we suc­cess­fully con­cluded a three-year wage agree­ment with Amcu and, con­trary to the ex­pec­ta­tions of many, it went smoothly and with­out a strike. It has not been easy, but ab­so­lutely worth it as it is in the DNA of our coun­try. We Africans have a rare abil­ity to build bridges across bi­o­log­i­cal and so­cial di­vides. Let us never cease to do so.

Magara is the CEO of Lon­min

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