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Lonmin CEO: Marikana a catalyst for positive change

Aug 11 2017 16:14
Lameez Omarjee
AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa and Lonmin CEO Ben Ma

AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa and Lonmin CEO Ben Magara during the commemoration of the 2012 Marikana massacre in August last year. (File pic: Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

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Johannesburg – Five years after the tragedy at Marikana, Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara said that upon reflection, it could be a catalyst for positive change to make sure something like that never happens again.

Magara was speaking during a panel discussion with the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) Joseph Mathunjwa at the Business Day Dialogue Breakfast on Friday.

“Commentators have said what happened could have happened anywhere in country and in our society,” said Magara. It is necessary for all stakeholders, government, employees, business and unions to consider the realities of the sector and create a “shared vision” to solve the challenges, he added.

Magara said that Lonmin considered the recommendations made by the Farlam Commission and has since reviewed its policies in terms of security, human resources and human rights.

Mathunjwa said that workers took matters into their own hands when they found unions were “in bed” with employers. Marikana also exposed that the State was committing to protect capital. There is still a “long road to travel” to change the structural economic systems that were developed when mineral wealth was first discovered.

As a union, AMCU said it has learnt the importance of keeping in touch with members in the ground and not to lose the interest of the workers.

Platinum strike

When asked if the five-month strike in the Platinum belt in 2014 was worth it, Mathunjwa said nothing could be done to shield workers of the hardship. “There was no other way to do it.” The strike was fighting a structural system black mineworkers were subject to. Now there is no mineworker who earns less than R10 000 at any of the platinum mines.

“It means we managed to dismantle this apartheid structural system of paying mineworkers. That was an achievement,” he said.

The job losses that followed was not to spite the unions, Magara said. It was a sacrifice necessary to save more jobs. “If we did not retrench 6 000 people in 2016, we would have lose 38 000 people.”

“Unfortunately for a CEO, for a union they can put their head in the sand. For the media, the government and politicians they can put their hands in the sand. As a CEO I have got to make a decision. I have 38 000 people to lose, or I have 33 000 I have to protect,” he said.

Lonmin hs not embarked on any expansion plans since in order to keep operations running sustainably.

He unpacked the challenges the industry has been facing over the past few years, namely lower platinum prices, a stringer rand and inflated costs. Electricity accounts for 14% of basic costs, up from 5% when Magara first joined the industry. Water and labour costs have also risen “phenomenally”. The global financial crisis also worsened the situation.

All these factors have impacted the viability of the mining industry and Lonmin, he said. “As far as Lonmin is concerned, job losses were inevitable.”

“Today we have a business running and managing to cope by itself by making those tough decisions. They are very painful decisions but somebody has to make them," he said. 

But Mathunjwa argued that although price has an impact on business, it all boils down to changing the structure of the economy.

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ben magara  |  joseph mathunjwa  |  marikana  |  mining

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