The debacle at Lonmin’s Marikana mine served to underscore the apparent failure of South Africa’s platinum industry to work together to find solutions to common problems, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said yesterday.
In an interview with Business Report on the sidelines of the Africa Down Under mining conference in Perth, Australia, Shabangu said the platinum industry lacked a sector-wide approach to issues confronting it.
“They have no centralised approach in the platinum sector that says this is how we are going to deal with the issues affecting us. I think they have been more in competition among themselves than trying to find [solutions to] common issues,” Shabangu said.
She said the challenge facing the sector caused by slowing global demand for platinum and rising cost pressures, was a case in point since the industry had failed to come up with measures to respond to the slump.
“It’s not just about labour issues but it’s also on the broad front. You don’t find them together like in the gold sector, which managed to come together and dealt with many, many issues which affect them, including conditions of employment of workers.”
Her comments, the most candid to date since the Lonmin unrest, illustrate the depth of the frustration that has arisen as her department seeks to devise ways to limit the impact of the global platinum slump on jobs, while working to prevent labour strife such as that witnessed two weeks ago at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.
Shabangu said a meeting that her department had this past Saturday with certain platinum industry stakeholders had reached an agreement in principle “that they’ve got to now move toward the centralisation of issues on how best do they take forward matters of common interest”.
Asked what South Africa had learnt from the Lonmin debacle, Shabangu said the key lesson was that the laws needed continuous review to ensure that any gaps were dealt with.
“The issue of the challenges around the Lonmin matter make it quite clear that there are gaps within the laws… it also means there’s a lack in terms of understanding the implementation of the laws themselves,” she said.
“I think we have to be on top of our laws on a regular basis. There is also a need to refresh what we have in our laws.”
She did not elaborate on what specific laws she was referring to, but the situation has sparked questions about wages, union and employer relations.
Asked whether Lonmin needed a management shake-up, Shabangu said the company had to undergo introspection to determine where things went wrong.
“They cannot operate as usual when they had such a tragic incident. But also they [have] to apply themselves to ask, do they really understand the space they are operating in? And if they do, then why did they go this way? One does find that there’s a need for leadership enhancement… if you look at the situation”.
Lonmin’s management has been lambasted for its handling of the Marikana dispute, which was also blamed on union rivalry. The company’s critics have said it failed to grasp the gravity of the situation.
“It is quite clear that there is a challenge, in my own observation, at the leadership level on how best Lonmin makes sure that management is seized with the issue. And for now I must say I am comfortable because we have managed to open a space for them to engage as all stakeholders in Lonmin.”