With a vision of undoing historical injustices, Northam Platinum has revolutionised the housing crisis associated with migrant labour by building houses for its employees and enabling them to become homeowners.
A new era in South African mining
In a world where mine workers have become justifiably cynical, Northam Platinum is doing “something special”. Families are being reunited, people are becoming first-time homeowners and young families are finally able to get onto the property ladder. This transformed environment means that workers are no longer forced to live lonely lives in dangerous accommodation - and the legacy of migrant labour is no longer an impediment to social and economic change.
Northam Platinum’s housing scheme is designed to enable employees to buy these houses at cost - removing a massive financial burden, and enabling families to turn houses into private and dignified homes. The large-scale project includes the building of schools and clinics to build the roots of a stronger and more sustainable community.
The homeownership scheme epitomises the ethos of shared value business: the company has a meaningful tool to attract and retain employees, and the lives of those employees are changed for the better, with positive benefits to productivity, mental health and wellbeing, and development and educational outcomes for children.
With a belief in its people, its product and the country, Northam Platinum is transforming the face of mining in South Africa. As it continues to grow, so too will communities around it expand and flourish, bringing about a new era of growth, potential and positivity in South Africa.
Unity Shiburi is a shift supervisor at Booysendal Mine, one of Northam Platinum’s green mining businesses. She is a groundbreaker in every sense of the word. Working in a predominantly male-centred industry is a challenge, but being a single mother, she is no stranger to adversity.
Shiburi worked at other mines before joining Northam, and although housing was provided as part of the employment package, it was never a house that she could own. Without roots, she could never fully settle. Her life has now been given purpose and permanence, and along with that, she and her daughter are part of a wonderful, family-oriented community.
Tau Chuene has been a mineworker for a significant part of his life. He knows first-hand the experience of being a migrant labourer. Historically, workers were drawn from rural areas to work on the mines and placed in hostels, hundreds of kilometres away from their families, friends and support structures.
But this legacy is no longer part of Chuene’s story. In joining Northam Platinum, he was presented with the opportunity to be part of the company’s employee housing scheme. Northam builds and provides comfortable two and three-bedroom homes in secure community settings that are close to the mines, and these homes are offered to employees at cost.
Tau and his wife, Valentia are now proud homeowners in Emaweni Village, and don’t have to suffer the separation that was previously a fundamental part of working on the mines. As parents, they know that they can all reconnect as a family at the end of each workday - a critical component of a full, meaningful and dignified life.
Colin Smith is the head of Human Resources at Northam Platinum. With extensive experience in the mining industry, he knows the dark history of migrant mine workers. Previously, mineworkers lived in hostels or compounds. These unfamiliar and unsafe surroundings created profound and deeply destructive consequences for their family lives and overall well-being - both mentally and physically.
Northam Platinum knew that it had to do things differently, and embarked on a programme to build houses for its employees to own. No longer are seasonal, temporary or contract workers migrating across the country, enduring the anguish of being separated from their families for months at a time. Now Norplats employees have the security of permanent employment and a comfortable home they can call their own. And so it is no surprise that Northam’s staff complement has grown from 10 000 people in 2010, to 18 300 today - a testament to the efficacy of this holistic shared value initiative.