NEAL FRONEMAN: Earning the trust of our neighbours is crucial for miners
The first step towards full reconciliation within our communities is to honestly acknowledge the role of our industry in the past
Developing and maintaining trust, and getting the support of stakeholders, are fundamental bases for companies to be successful and sustainable. And while this is critical in any business anywhere in the world, it is even more important in the mining industry in SA given our demographic profile and social challenges. For mining companies, a primary focus needs to be on the stakeholders at and around our operations; in essence, our neighbours.
It’s a homily that trust is earned, but that doesn’t make it less true. Only through a process of constructive and transparent engagement can we achieve mutually acceptable and constructive ends: where listening is more important than telling; where time is given and taken to collaboratively work through problems and solutions; where engagement is inclusive and broad-based rather than exclusive; and where we approach any challenge with humility and vulnerability because we don’t have all the answers, and in fact may never have them.
Yet it is difficult to move to the future because so few beneficiaries of SA’s past have been willing to acknowledge the realities of that history. Before we successfully find a way of moving forward we need to talk about our past, the history that remains a barrier because it divides our society and prevents engagements about what is needed to take us forward.
We need to acknowledge past injustice to enable us then to have worthwhile engagements about the socioeconomic growth and development that will address the poverty, unemployment and inequality that are features of our society, in many respects because of that past and in some respects because of our present, or our more recent history.
For our company, Sibanye-Stillwater, which last year acquired the assets of Lonmin, much of the commemoration that has taken place this week has been about dealing with the things that were unacceptable in the past and must never happen again.
I was fortunate in 2016 to be part of the process of developing the Zambezi Protocol, in a meeting convened by the Brenthurst Foundation under the auspices of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. The Zambezi Protocol sets out a road map to realise optimal value from Africa’s vast mineral wealth based on a foundation of trust, underpinned by constructive partnerships that improve competitiveness, generate value and secure a sustainable future.
The Zambezi Protocol challenges industry’s stakeholders to develop a vision of what a sustainable, successful industry should look like, while knowing and acknowledging where we have come from.
The first step is acknowledging our past, which is often not an easy thing to do. For all the positives that mining has contributed to the SA economy over the past century, it is undeniable that the industry did grievous harm to many of its stakeholders under the past social order. We need to critically and honestly acknowledge the role of our industry in the past if we are to secure full reconciliation within our communities and our broader society. And, we need to commit ourselves to a very different way of doing business.
A second step in our approach to changing the landscape of mining communities into modern mining towns that go beyond mining requires that we recognise that we build relationships that foster active corporate citizenship and contribute to the socioeconomic development of the country. To do this we need to engage, collectively, on a vision for the mining industry. And we need to do so actively and constructively. A fundamental starting point must be that we act as good neighbours, and that our stakeholders in return perceive our actions as those of good neighbours.
To this end, we see ourselves as an important role-player in developing a social and economic compact in the region in which we operate — not as the conductor or leader but as a catalytic participant. Critical to this process is the need for all stakeholders to operate on the same playing field, at the same level. And here it is incumbent on us to ensure all stakeholders engaged in the process have the capacity to understand and process the decisions they are called on to make, to participate meaningfully in challenging the status quo and to be able to generate the plans needed to take their ideas and needs forward.
The third and final step in our road map is the development of a social and economic compact that creates superior value for all stakeholders, and one that leaves a legacy beyond mining. Here, our company and the mining industry can be a catalyst for value creation. But there are roles and responsibilities for each of the stakeholders to bring this vision to fruition. The principle of social cohesion is critical for this path to materialise. Ultimately, as a company — in conjunction with other stakeholders — we must ensure alternative economic activities can leverage off mining-led development and the social asset base. Because mines will at some stage cease to exist; communities will not.
We all have a common interest in creating a better future, if not for ourselves, certainly for our children and grandchildren. We would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue with this intent.
We might have different ideas about how to get there, but ultimately — as stakeholders in the mining sector — our futures are inextricably linked and dependent on mutual support and co-operation. And, back to the main point of this article, it is deep and meaningful conversations that will help us get there.
• Froneman is CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater.
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