Marikana is picking up the pieces
- Lonmin workers embark on biggest strike since Marikana shooting
- Mines rethink union agreements
- NUM president denies calling Marikana strikers criminals
- Nationalisation of mines won't happen, says Shabangu
- Lonmin strike: Tension between unions hampers mine's output
- Families of deceased Marikana workers to sue police for millions
- Marikana victim: I may never be able to father children
- Shabangu: Mining industry is not a money-making scheme
- Amcu's staying power is in doubt
- Mpofu: Marikana was redefined as criminal act
'Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land."
These words from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness run through my mind as our luxury bus winds along the dusty road towards Marikana. It is six months after strikes at the Lonmin Marikana platinum mine spiralled out of control, leaving the world reeling when 44 lives ended in violent conflict. The mine became the landmark of one of the darkest moments in post-apartheid history — an event still too painfully fresh in the minds of many, known simply as "Marikana".
Lonmin has been holding press visits for the past two years. So their invitation for about 15 business reporters to tour their operations is not just an isolated post-Marikana public relations exercise. But the incident has changed everything, including the way this trip will be run. It "will be with us forever", says the executive vice-president of mining, Mark Munroe. I believe him.
Five weeks ago, the company's chairperson, Roger Phillimore, committed Lonmin to a "process of fundamental change". This was needed to rebuild trust with employees and unions.
"The mining industry in South Africa is at a crossroads," he said. Lonmin needed to contribute to "improved relations" with its employees "both in and outside the workplace".
So the media was invited along, not to see the finished product, but to see it "warts and all", says Natascha Viljoen, the executive vice-president of processing and sustainability. Of course, they're highlighting their schemes to implement "change", but they're also giving us uncensored access to a variety of people and places.
We drive into Wonderkop village, remarkable as the oldest settlement on the mine and the closest one to the infamous koppie where the strikers and police came to loggerheads on August 16 last year.
I almost expect an eerie silence to hang over the place. Instead the sun beats down on the tarmac and goats nibble leaves from between long white thorns on acacia bushes. Everywhere I look, groups of men are chilling in patches of shade. They sit or stand under carports, at bus stops and under thorn trees. I haven't yet seen a single woman.
We walk into the hostel. This is the real deal. The walls of a room housing eight steel beds are stained with years of cooking oil. There are no curtains, only an ancient threadbare cloth tied across the window. Beds are strewn with old, dirty blankets; clothes hang from bent hangers on makeshift wire lines attached to the walls. There are beaten-up steel lockers and a round plastic table with two chairs in the "common area" — a space about one metre by three in front of the beds. A bare-chested man lies half-covered with blankets in a deep sleep, unaware of the intruders filing past his head.
There is a small flatscreen TV in the room, and a microwave with a double-cooker on top of it. "They have chosen to supplement the food they receive from the hostel [canteen]," says Victor Song, who oversees project services at Lonmin. The communal bathrooms are dismal: dank walls, taps leaking into concrete, industrial-size sinks, dripping shower heads and streaming urinals.
A "living out" allowance
At its height, more than 15 000 of Lonmin's workers stayed in hostels. After 1994, when new legislation required that the company offer a "living out" allowance, that number began to dwindle. Now, only 3 000 of the company's 28 000 workers live in hostels. According to Barnard Mokwena, the executive vice- president of human capital and external affairs, workers often opt to take the living-out stipend of R1 900 but stay in shacks for as little as possible so that they can send more money home to their families. More than 90% of Lonmin's mining workforce is still made up of migrant labour.
Lonmin says it is trying to change that.
"We want Lonmin to become a normal company where people work from home and not rely on migrant labour," says Mokwena.
It's a self-avowedly mammoth task. "We're talking about changing 100 years of mining history," he says.
Research shows that workers who live with their families in a normalised environment are more stable, healthier and more productive.
Across the road from the hostels, we walk into the neat, square, fenced-off garden of a new unit. This is one of 937 bachelor units and 695 family units that have been converted from 97 hostel blocks since 2003. I chat to Boitemelo Diale, a general worker on the mine surface, who lives there with her husband Kaelo Diale, an administrator.
Their home is tiled, the living room lined with couches and bookshelves on which is a massive sound system. The kitchen is small, modern and well stocked. The single bedroom contains a large queen-size bed with bright, psychedelic linen and a stuffed red devil holding a black heart that reads "I love you". It is a comfortable home, and its smiling occupants pay about R350 a month in rent, including for amenities.
But Boitemelo says it was difficult to get a unit, and space is tight: she and her husband share one bed with their two daughters, aged 11 and three.
"They're on the list for a family unit," says Song. How many people are on the list, I ask. "About 2 000."
The months following "Marikana" were filled with unprecedented strain on the company. In March 2012, Lonmin shares were worth more than R1 100. By September, they had dropped to about R550. In December, they had dropped still further, to R250. Part of the labour force was still extremely dissatisfied. The very real effects of trauma and fear were playing out among them. About six weeks of production time had been lost, meaning an estimated R1.3-billion in lost revenue.
But, when workers returned to the mine in September, "we didn't just rush in to start the production, as some of the other companies did," says Munroe.
"We used the [down] time to actually bring in the supervisors and the managers and give them some coaching and training as to what could be expected when the workforce comes back. They would be massively traumatised; they would have seen unprecedented amounts of violence, intimidation in some areas. They would have lost their salaries for six weeks. They would be hungry. They would have financial stress in their families. [They] had school fees to pay, they had food to buy for their families and they didn't have the money.
"We had counsellors at every operation, talking to our supervisors and our miners."
They also anticipated that people would be too hungry to perform physical labour. "So we brought in short-term incentives so we could give guys say R200 every week so that they could buy food."
For the first week after their return, workers did not work in the shafts. Instead, they received intensive "retraining" to re-establish organisational hierarchies.
"Because, remember, during the strike the rock drill operators were largely ruling the roost. Obviously that had to be reversed," says Munroe.
The underground work areas also had to be cleared for safety before work could resume. Some areas of the mine only started production six weeks after Lonmin officially went back to work.
"That led, actually, to the safest quarter Lonmin has ever had," says Munroe. Considering the company claims to place a higher emphasis on safety than on production figures — ironically, it was recognised as the safest mine in South Africa by Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu just days before the shootings last year — this is their ultimate marker of success.
"Investing in the community"
We spend the rest of the day looking at Lonmin's other socioeconomic initiatives, part of the company's "investment in the community".
There's the Marikana community clinic, one of seven built by Lonmin in the area that are overseen and staffed by the department of health.
There's the Thabo Morula High School, which used R6.5-million from Lonmin to build new classrooms and ablution facilities. The school has a matric pass rate of 80% and a university exemption rate of about 50%, compared with about 25% of the other schools in the area.
There's the artisans' college, where Lonmin trains locals with no work experience and its own employees who want to improve their skills. The accredited training costs the company R300 000 a person. There were 12 students in the most recent intake, six of whom were women. But this ratio is far from representative of the number of women employed — 8% of the workforce, with only 5% participating in core activities.
I meet four of them on a trip underground the next morning. We're dressed in reflective overalls, hard boots and helmets with headlamps. We sit through three safety briefings before being jostled into a "cage". And then we're plunging 485m down below surface level into the true heart of darkness.
We were meant to visit the Saffy shaft but were moved to the K3 shaft. People were "singing and dancing" outside the Saffy shaft this morning, the company's PR manager, Sue Vey, says euphemistically.
It turns out that the mine's militant new majority union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), has called an illegal strike. It wants Lonmin management to remove the offices of the rival National Union of Mineworkers from the mine premises.
But management is refusing, in accordance with a recent peace accord signed by both unions. They meet both unions the same afternoon, and all workers return to work the next morning with no injuries and only one production shift lost. Share prices stay over R330.
It's a far cry from the six weeks and 44 lives lost last year. Perhaps this is a glimmer of light from the "torch" held by the messengers of might within the land.