Imagining what the future looks like, in Nationhood and Partnership

In his speech, brought to light when quoted by one of our finest leaders and our country and movement`s former President, Thabo Mbeki, at WIPHOLD`s 20th anniversary celebrations, Mr Mark Cutifani – a leader in the mining industry, noted,

“When we talk about mining we need to be clear – we are talking about the most important industrial activity on the face of the planet…Correspondingly, it is my contention that mining drives more than 45% of the world`s economic activity…”

To advance the argument I seek to present, I premise my thoughts on some challenges the mining industry faced in the past, and how it confronted and overcame them

The period between 1997 and 1999 experienced a crisis in the gold price. At the time the price of gold hit US$250 an ounce. Resulting from the crisis, all and sundry, decried the mining industry as a sunset industry. Recognising the crisis, its effects on employers, employees and the economy; both labour and the owners came together to find appropriate and adequate responses to the prevailing conditions.

Together, they managed to turn around mining from being a sunset to a sunrise industry. This attitude, deriving from a situation that was catastrophic to our people, our economy and our country, displayed our individual and collective resilience. Simultaneously, it demonstrated the critical importance of the success borne from working together as a people; the partnership of those determined to overcome common challenges and find appropriate answers to the reality before them as they brave new circumstances. Emerging from this reality, those in the industry should fully appreciate the conception of partnership, which Mr Cutifani sought to express as,

“The definition of partnership has to be about how each participant imagines what a successful future looks like and what compromises can be made to ensure parties can be accommodated in defining a pathway to a new reality…”

It is this ability to imagine what a successful future looks like, steeped in common nationhood and partnership, we must seek. I, even at the height of the gold crisis, have always been critical of the negative narrative that sought to portray the industry as ailing, including the impression created by some even among you that it was out to beg for sympathy.

Sadly, this narrative has become synonymous with the industry in South Africa. Yet, to the contrary, mining executives in other countries remain bullish and appreciative of their industry and its inherent capacity for resilience. Such contrasting attitudes accounts for why South Africa is rated number fifty three in the Fraser Institute, instead of rising to the twenties and further up the echelons of the top ten world ratings where it deservingly belongs.

South Africa`s prospects of shale gas in the Karoo, and oil in the deep shores, will complement the contribution of mining in the economy. When such prospects are actualised they will be game changers. Such is the challenge of an ability to imagine what a successful future looks like, steeped in common nationhood and partnership. Failure to imagine the future, collectively, would only mean that these prospects remain potentialities that are not actualised.

For us to actualise the future imagined requires a review of how effective and efficient we manage our present resources. Are the mineral deposits at our disposal benefiting our people? Our lack of success in ensuring that these resources benefit our people will likely translate into resentment, manifesting in an environment rife with anarchy and destruction.

Black economic empowerment must be seen as a necessity and a business imperative. The worst case scenario would be when multinationals turn aggressive to destroy emergent mining companies. Such is the behaviour exhibited by foreign companies, like Glencore, which use their financial might to crush any junior miner at their doorstep. The state must be strong in defending these small companies.

When Anglo Platinum sells some of its assets it should factor in the importance of creating Black-owned companies, even if those are in partnership with established companies, instead of only making consideration for the highest bidder. If mining companies do not understand the urgency of building and supporting as many black companies as possible, they must appreciate that they are investing in future revolt. This is referred to as the live and let live philosophy, which characterised the facilitation of Afrikaner capital by the English moguls after the Nationalist party took power in 1948.

Ours is a case for the empowerment of the majority. When we despise this majority we are like someone who is sowing in the wind, whose reward would be to reap the whirlwind in the future. Those among you familiar with the Parable of the Sower in the Bible will appreciate the analogy and, so too, its caution “whoever has ears, let them hear”. But we are fortunate to learn from present history in Zimbabwe, where the majority resented being kept away from tasting the benefits of freedom and, thus, revolted.

The epitome of our freedom cannot be hollow reconciliation, where minority interests are protected yet the black majority are welfare cases. We must give meaning to former President Thabo Mbeki`s words when he said,

“…the majority of our people understood and understand that liberation from apartheid and colonialism must and had to mean creating the possibility for the millions of ordinary South Africans and Africans to enjoy better lives free from poverty, as well as the restoration of our full dignity as human beings.”

The mining industry can lead the way. As Mr Cutifani enunciated to the 2013 African Mining Indaba,

“We have to make changes to transform the countries we work in…”

Furthermore, he says,

“The job of those who have stewardship of capital is to support society…”

Employment equity is not a nicety but a business imperative. South African mining companies must believe in the skills of black South Africans. Stop appointing executives from elsewhere. Stop overlooking Africans of South African origin and appointing only Indians or Zimbabweans each time you are to appoint a black executive. Black South Africans, in particular African, are either not recognised or battling to be recognised.

We should avoid repeating errors committed in our country`s recent history. You will recall that despite the Afrikaner Nationalists being in power for forty years, the English conglomerates ensured that there could be no Afrikaner appointed as a CEO. As the supposed designated owners of the mining industry, they neither recognised nor believed in Afrikaners having or honing such expertise. We both know that such archaic racial attitudes were nothing more than a result of historical animosity between the English and the Afrikaner, traceable to the emergence of mining and the post Anglo-Boer War concessions.

This is why post 1994 a plethora of Afrikaner CEOs sprouted because new vistas were ushered in with our freedom. Ironically, twenty years under African – and Black – political leadership, a large contingent of black engineers that rose fast through the ranks has yet to break through the imaginary ceiling that prevents their mobility past section managers. What happened to coaching and mentorship?

Let us, here and now, say, we will not wait for forty years before African skills are recognised.

The mining industry must be at the centre of driving the transformation programme as they were at the heart of enforcing apartheid policies, such as job reservation; influx control and the single sex hostels.

Government cannot continue to be used as a scapegoat. The five months strike in the platinum belt reflected weak leadership in the industry and in organised labour. Yet the major part of the blame was placed on government.

Collective bargaining is integral to a free market economy. Should the industry think the state must determine wage increases, let it please come forward to present such a proposal for consideration. Nonetheless, I am certain you would soon complain as is the experience with NERSA on electricity tariffs. We must protect the collective bargaining dispensation and enforce the conventions.

At a recent BMF conference I opined that South African capital is on an investment strike. The retort by the Vice President of BBC was that the ANC succumbs to pressure from the Alliance and advised that we must tell it off. Fortunately, the alliance is not up for sale to the highest bidder. Its bonds, forged through struggle, while adaptable cannot be bent. The ANC, its Government, are very sensitive to any suggestion of them acting as watchman for capital. My advice is that business must engage us without blackmail. Again returning to Mr Mark Cutifani,

“South Africa could meet its challenges once government and the private sector stopped talking past each other…”

Fellow South Africans, captains of industry, such a world is possible when we have the ability to imagine what a successful future looks like, steeped in common nationhood and partnership. In an article titled Native Union, in the Imvo Zabantsundu in 1911, Pixley kaIsaka Seme wrote;

“There is today among all races and (wo)men a general desire for progress, and for co-operation, because co-operation will facilitate and secure progress…

I repeat, co-operation is the key and the watchword which opens the door, the everlasting door which leads into progress and all national success. The greatest success shall come when (wo)man shall have learned to co-operate, not only with his (her) own kith and kin but will all peoples and with all life.”

And indeed, buoyed by this understanding and practice, like Pixley kaIsaka Seme in hisRegeneration of Africa speech, delivered at Columbia University, USA, in 1906, we shall therefore, today, rise to emphatically proclaim;

“Yes, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period! By this term regeneration (we) wish to be understood to mean the entrance into new life, embracing the diverse phases of a higher, complex existence…

(which) therefore must lead (us) to the attainment of that higher and advanced standard of life.”

This is a permanent reality among men and women who have the ability to imagine what a successful future looks like, steeped in common nationhood and partnership.

>> Gwede Mantashe is the Secretary General of the African National Congress. This text is an edited extract from the speech he delivered to the Joburg Mining Indaba on the 8th October 2014

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