Lonmin’s Magara just doesn’t get it

Ben Magara, Lonmin's new chief executive, is not a bad guy. Magara has been going out, meeting workers and explaining his vision for the troubled conglomerate. In an interview with the Business Day, Magara said: "It's about making the workers feel associated with the company. I want to keep them aware and interested. I want them to understand the platinum business. I am looking for commitment and ownership and buy-in."

He has been to the Eastern Cape where he met some of the spouses and children of the workers who were mowed down in Marikana by police officers last year. He has committed to paying for the education of the children of the 44 people who died last year. "I went there to give my condolences and show that Lonmin cares. I met 97 of the 113 dependent kids that live in the Eastern Cape."

All nice and good. 

In his meet-the-workers-tour, rather reminiscent of Mbeki's imbizos, Magara said he met and spoke to about 20 000 workers in just a week. How he managed to do this, without a hailer and outside of a stadium, is anyone's guess. Or perhaps he is just a Superman chief executive.

It gets worse.

In these meet-the-miner-tours, Magara had a surprise up his cuff-linked sleeves. He gave every worker he met a Bar One chocolate inscribed with a message and, to put a face to the missive, coupled with his very own picture on it.

His reasoning? "I believe that every employee wants to get as close to the decision makers as possible so they know what the leader wants. It's about me telling them that 'I want you to come with me but also that I want to learn from you." Doesn't that remind you of that aphorism about the way to a woman's heart is through chocolate?  

If Magara, who speaks seven languages, hadn't studied mining engineering he could have done well in languages. 

There have been so many rallies in Marikana that every conversation – including small talk between mother-in-law and son-in-law – in that vicinity must now be preceded by a slogan of sorts. Good student that he is, Magara seems to have learnt very quickly. "I say 'viva' a lot. It's not political. People respond to it. It energises them. It creates a buzz and that's what I want to accomplish."

If anyone thought that Magara is a new specimen of a late capitalism, he quickly snuffs out those hopes: "I can be both easygoing and also a hands-on taskmaster."

So there.

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Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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