Last week’s peaceful commemoration of the Marikana massacre was, by and large, a key moment in the country’s attempts to stabilise and normalise the industrial relations climate in the local mining industry.
Returning the mining industry to an irreversible state of normalcy and stability is key to unlocking sustained high and inclusive job-creating economic growth for the country and its people. The stability of the local mining industry is key to the country’s growth and development projects, which can best be advanced through a globally competitive mining industry.
Bold and unifying leadership is key to stability in the mining industry. It needs to be explicitly and actively demonstrated, on a sustained and consistent basis, by business, labour and government leaders for the sake of the industry and country alike.
Its absence can have fatal consequences, as we saw at Marikana last year. Its presence can be a powerful and positive force for peace and unity among workers, which is key to productivity and efficiency in the workplace, which, in turn, are key to the global competitiveness of our mining industry and the country at large.
Now is the time that effective and unifying leadership should be unleashed to stabilise and take the mining industry and the country forward. Now is the time to stop apportioning blame and unite around a common and compelling vision of the future for the industry.
Point scoring to advance narrow sectional or organisational interests is not what South Africa needs at this stage.
The opportunistic attempts to score political points and jostle for votes in next year’s election on the back of last year’s unfortunate events at Marikana can be more revealing about the calibre of political parties and leadership that we have. Mature and unifying leadership is required across all sectors of our society.
What is further required is an unequivocal restoration of faith and confidence in the local mining industry as an attractive investment proposition. South Africa has the world’s largest endowment in mineral resources but does not have the largest share of global capital expenditure in mining. It should. However, this requires deliberate efforts and actions to build and retain global investor confidence.
The country’s lower share of global mining investment is largely due to a deficit in global investor confidence in the local mining industry, which is not an insurmountable challenge.
This can and must be addressed. It is an area of opportunity requiring concerted and united effort to turn around. Other mining-intense economies elsewhere in the world are jostling for position to attract and retain global mining investment.
Decisive and resolute steps are required to elevate South Africa’s position as an attractive investment location of choice. Marikana will remain an indictment in the conscious of the new South Africa. We must learn the lessons and move beyond it.
One of the things that are and should be taken for granted in any democracy is the right of workers and citizens to march and protest peacefully and freely without the fear of violence and death. That must be part of our national value system.
The efficacy of the social partnership that should underpin modern industrial relations in modern democratic societies was tested to the limit and came out wanting at Marikana on August 16 last year. That should not have been allowed to happen.
We should all say: never, never again will workers be set up for mowing down like they were at Wonderkop last year.
There is no reason to justify the loss of innocent lives as witnessed at Marikana.
The easiest thing of all is to apportion blame. The most difficult thing is to accept responsibility. No one at the Farlam commission of inquiry into Marikana has thus far accepted responsibility and apologised to the families who lost their loved ones or to the nation at large.
It is crucial to look and move forward. South Africa has paid and will continue to pay the price if negative investor sentiment is not addressed through an effective and well-orchestrated strategy championed by leaders across all sectors of society.
I strongly believe that the prevalent negative investor sentiment towards the local mining industry can and must be turned around. How? First, we need confidence-building measures to reassure local and foreign investors alike.
This should not just be about superficial positive talking up of the local industry. It must be about substantive engagement and lobbying of local and international investor communities to prioritise the local mining industry in their capital allocation decisions. South Africa’s mining industry has massive potential to attract and retain massive inflows of foreign investment.
Second, South Africa is, in the broader scheme of things, a very attractive and compelling emerging market in which to invest. It has world class regulatory institutions and a globally esteemed money market, according to the World Economic Forum. South Africa suffers from a perception deficit which, luckily, can be addressed through concerted strategic thinking and action by leaders from business, labour and the government.
Third, we need to elevate building and maintaining investor confidence to a national strategic priority around which all should rally. This requires a systematic and sustained focus and effort built on a clear and well-articulated strategy, not just once-off events or once-off statements.
Fourth, there is a need for substance to prevail over form in the partnership between the government and business. The tendency to meet only or mainly during crisis situations and issue nice press statements of commitment to working together is neither adequate nor helpful in fully unlocking durable solutions to our pressing national problems and challenges.
We need a new type of engagement underpinned by mutual trust and confidence that should be projected at all times by all parties even when they are not together. The need for strategic alignment of approaches between the government, business and labour to position South Africa as an investment location of choice is more important today than ever before. Bickering on small issues may cost us dearly on the bigger issues.
There is a need to craft a fine and reasonable balance between sectional interests and the wider national economic interest which, I dare say, should prevail above all else. The first year after Marikana should be used to position the industry and country for greatness underpinned by global competitiveness and high trust in the local mining industry.
To the extent that the industry lingers on the low trust trajectory, the extent to and speed at which it can recover from the Marikana massacre is likely to be limited at best or non-existent at worst. South Africa needs a robust mining industry that can be a magnet for the attraction and retention of local and foreign investment to propel the country’s growth, development and prosperity for generations.
* Kuseni Dlamini is the former head of Anglo American South Africa.