From tragedy to be­ing cen­tre of in­no­va­tion

A new, younger gen­er­a­tion of skills brought about change


Fresh to Lon­min just ahead of the Marikana tragedy that shook re­la­tions be­tween em­ploy­ees and man­age­ment, Lucky Mnisi was per­haps bet­ter placed than most in his po­si­tion as mine man­ager at Row­land to adapt to those changes.

Grap­pling at a per­sonal level with the tran­si­tion from An­glo Amer­i­can Plat­inum’s Rustenburg mines, he found the need to adapt and ac­com­mo­date fun­da­men­tal changes in labour re­la­tions eas­ier than man­agers who had been with the com­pany for years and ex­pected “things to re­turn to nor­mal,” the vice pres­i­dent of min­ing at Row­land and 4B Shafts says.

Row­land was an op­er­a­tion at the cen­tre of the events lead­ing to Au­gust 2012, and deal­ing with labour af­ter­wards was a chal­lenge, but one that took care­ful, con­sid­ered man­age­ment to ease the work­ing re­la­tion­ship and in­clude those who fell out­side the now dom­i­nant As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu).

The chang­ing face of man­age­ment at op­er­a­tional level and the ar­rival of new CEO Ben Ma­gara in July 2013 helped defuse and smooth those re­la­tion­ships.

“There’s a new, younger gen­er­a­tion of skills and they have more drive to ori­en­tate on softer skills,” says Mnisi. “No-one un­der­ground re­mem­bers good mine man­agers be­cause of their op­er­a­tional ex­per­tise but rather, be­cause of their care and hu­man touch. That’s what makes a good man­ager.”

The dis­cus­sions with Amcu were tough, but start­ing with the unar­guable is­sues of safety and how to im­prove th­ese, the re­la­tion­ship of trust and progress de­vel­oped slowly on each side.

One of the ways he ad­dressed pro­duc­tiv­ity was to re­move ex­tra­ne­ous wor­ries of his crews, leav­ing them noth­ing to fret about at work ex­cept chas­ing pro­duc­tion and as­so­ci­ated bonuses.

Look­ing ahead to the time when Sibanye-still­wa­ter takes over the whole of Lon­min, Mnisi points to the out­stand­ing op­er­a­tional per­for­mance the mines are now de­liv­er­ing as the com­pany puts many trou­bled years be­hind it.

“The trick in this merger is not to lose this team that Lon­min has. We’ve worked hard to get here and it’s pay­ing off. Sibanye will need to en­sure we har­ness it and make it even bet­ter,” he says.

A mine over­seer re­cently wanted to know from Mnisi why Row­land had to go deeper in­stead of min­ing lat­er­ally into the neigh­bour­ing re­sources of K3 and K4. This in­di­cated a grow­ing re­la­tion­ship of trust where in­no­va­tion is en­cour­aged. It’s the easy way to make Row­land tick over while the com­pany tries to find the money it needs for the MK2 pro­ject.

“MK2 is five years late be­cause of cap­i­tal de­fer­ments, but it forced us to think what else we could do. We either die a slow death or find so­lu­tions for our­selves,” he says.

Lucky Mnisi: Trust among teams en­cour­age in­no­va­tive ideas

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