/ 15 August 2023

We are on the right side of history, says Froneman of  Sibanye’s response to Marikana

White crosses mark the location of the Marikana massacre.
White crosses mark the location of the Marikana massacre.

Neal Froneman, the chief executive of Sibanye-Stillwater, which took over Lonmin a year after the Marikana massacre, said the company’s community upliftment project put it on the “right side” of history.

“We have been promoting the concept of stakeholder capitalism since 2013 and stakeholder capitalism is about an appropriate way of sharing value and not seeing community upliftment as a hardship and not seeing employment of so many people within our business as a huge risk,” Froneman told a virtual Marikana memorial lecture on Monday. 

In August 2012, 34 mine workers were gunned down by police during a six-week strike for a wage increase as well as better living and work conditions. Prior to the massacre, 10 people were killed in the violence that accompanied the strike, including police officers and security guards at the mine.

In 2021, Sibanye-Stillwater launched a Marikana renewal programme, which aims to create a sustainable and positive future beyond the tragedy. It covers the educational needs of the dependent children of the employees who were killed, has built homes for their widows and offers employment at the company for their offspring.

“We want to approach the process of renewal with the view to never forget what happened or what caused the massacre. We are on the right side. We are doing this not because we have to do it. It’s the right thing to do and it’s a happy side that we are on,” Froneman said.

It was imperative for business to create shared value for South Africa from an economic, social and environmental perspective.

“Business cannot do this alone,” he said. “A critical feature in the ability of any company to create shared value is the participation of a capable state that creates conditions for competitiveness in which business can flourish and play its part in promoting economic growth and social advancement.” 

In June, the government and organised business agreed to work together to remove obstacles to inclusive economic growth and job creation, agreeing on three immediate priority interventions: energy; transport and logistics as well as fighting crime and corruption. Froneman co-chairs the crime and corruption workstream alongside Remgro chief executive Jannie Durand. 

“While historically a lack of trust has impeded progress, we think there needs to be recognition that we are moving into a new phase of working together towards common objectives. I am encouraged by some positive signs lately from the presidency that the government is amenable to working with business to create a better shared future,” Foneman said at the Marikana lecture.

“The partnerships between business and government to work on electricity, transport and logistics, and crime and corruption is being well received to address these critical issues.”

He said Marikana, despite its tragic legacy, could be a leading site for these initiatives “and through active stakeholder cooperation, progress is already being made”.

Recalling the events of 16 August 2012, Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of disaster relief group Gift of the Givers, spoke of “the callousness of man”.

“For example, as we were assisting miners on that day who, along with their families, were very hungry, disappointingly on one of the days I received a call telling me to stop giving food to protesting miners because they wanted the protesting to stop. I ignored that and doubled the number of parcels given to miners. This was the biggest disregard for human rights, human emotions and human feelings,” he said. 

Sooliman appealed for positive change, not only in Marikana but throughout the country, urging citizens to turn away from the widespread negativity, which he said was making it impossible to rebuild South Africa. Much of the negativity was caused by people not having recovered from the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s time not to live in the past but to reflect on the past. It’s now time to build the country,” he said. “You can’t build a country on negative sentiment.”