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A view of Nkaneng, where Marikana miners live, as seen from the koppie where 34 miners lost their lives in 2012. Picture: ZIPHOZONKE LUSHABA
A view of Nkaneng, where Marikana miners live, as seen from the koppie where 34 miners lost their lives in 2012. Picture: ZIPHOZONKE LUSHABA

The tragic events at Marikana during August 2012, leading up to the massacre of August 16, shook not only the mining industry but the whole of SA society to its core. Though Sibanye-Stillwater did not exist at the time of these tragic events, when we acquired Lonmin in 2019 we had no hesitation in taking on our responsibility towards the difficult legacies that continued to afflict society.

In our quest to address the social legacies the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, launched the Marikana Renewal programme in 2019 as its patron, and continues to be deeply engaged in it. The programme incorporates three equally important, mutually reinforcing ways to build a stronger, more cohesive society.

The first element of Marikana Renewal is that we must continue to honour the past and remember those who died at Marikana in 2012. We have done and continue to do this in a variety of ways. Three years ago we initiated an annual memorial lecture to mark the anniversary. In doing so we are seeking to encourage and stimulate thought leadership and critical discourse on the issues that face us as a society today, particularly in the mining industry and our operating districts.

We are also honouring the past by continuing to make strides in delivering on the commitments made to the widows and families. Not least, this includes the provision of housing to the widows and continuing to fund and in other ways support the education of the children, many of whom are now young adults, to postgraduate level where possible.

And planning is at an advanced stage for the construction of a memorial site at the site of the August 16 2012 shooting. The planning is inclusive and considered. Reaching this stage has been some time in the making, but we appreciate that this is part of an extended healing journey, and the voices of all those who were tragically affected must be heard. I hope and expect that by this time next year we will be able to unveil the fruits of this collective thinking as a significant step towards securing closure.

The second element in addressing the Marikana legacy through Marikana Renewal is engagement among stakeholders. We have recognised that a cohesive society can only be built when all stakeholders, including the company, have a clear voice in developing shared understanding of priority issues and preparing a compelling collective vision for the future. 

The broad engagements are being independently led in a structured and considered manner by a social facilitation organisation, ReimagineSA, which facilitates inclusive stakeholder engagement. An open invitation has been extended to all interested parties to join in the Letsema process.

In these early stages of Renewal, stakeholders who have accepted the invitation to participate include the widows and families of the fallen; extended families and chiefs in the labour sending areas; Bapo ba Mogale and other tribal authorities; community-based faith and spiritual leaders; Rustenburg, and Madibeng and Bojanala District level municipal office bearers and councillors.

The door remains open for stakeholders who have not yet been able to engage and participate in the Renewal programme. Through sincere interactions enabled by Letsema, based on the process of honouring through creating a foundation for social healing, new bridges are being built towards achieving a higher degree of shared understanding.

It is regrettable that certain organisations appear reluctant to join this constructive dialogue to honour the past and create the new future. I appeal to them to reconsider their approach, because ultimately the people of Marikana will call out those who place unnecessary obstacles in the way of progress on the basis of questionable motives.

The Letsema process is also a central part of the third element of Marikana Renewal – creating a new future. Letsema’s inclusive approach to collaborative engagement will define a credible way forward with a platform for concerted action to build a better society. 

We cannot pre-empt what the destiny will look like or what all the required actions are, though we are mobilising to deliver promising opportunities as they are identified.  This includes creating direct and indirect jobs and meaningful economic opportunity through targeted and developmental local procurement; constructing roads, schools and other social infrastructure; and creating the capacity for education and learning that will give people lifelong skills. Much has also been done to constructively address social ills, such as indebtedness, and to put in place better systems to manage conflict.

This brings me to the conversation of a socioeconomic compact — a framework that I continue to wholeheartedly support and believe in. A social compact at its heart is the voluntary collaboration of entities in delivering social advancement and value. It has the capacity to transform the desire to do good into shared value through economic profitability.

Responsible businesses will deliver social value, but their main and most important role in the ecosystem is to create the economic value that enables and drives shared value and social progress. Business is the engine of socioeconomic development and progress. In a socioeconomic compact we, as business, are the economic partners. Yes, of course we support social good, but responsible economic value creation that benefits all stakeholders must be our primary focus as part of a flourishing and durable ecosystem.

This approach is an integral part of what we do to create value and benefit all stakeholders. It is not philanthropy. It is doing good business by doing good — practices that we preach and live by with value creation for all stakeholders central to the success of our sustainable profitmaking strategy. And by doing this in  a socially and environmentally responsible way companies — and especially mining companies — have the capacity to drive change, to achieve social justice and create enduring value.

We experienced the power of concerted action when we were faced with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic that has exerted a dominating influence over the past two years. With stakeholders working together to attain common goals, we navigated the pandemic through all its phases.  As business we fulfilled an active role in supporting the healthcare programmes, providing relief from social distress and setting up vaccination facilities that could serve community needs.  We were successful in protecting both lives and livelihoods as best we could under the circumstances. 

We need much more of the same to address other pandemics that we are facing such as the scourge of gender-based violence and the national economic crisis that results from GDP growth well below the levels required for a sustainable society.

I must acknowledge that the history of mining abounds with practices that damaged the fabric of society in the interests of a few. But I believe we have learnt since that era that mining must be conducted in a way that builds social and economic capital for all stakeholders. 

The Marikana Renewal programme, supported by the Letsema process, is I believe unlike any that has ever been sponsored by the private sector. It aims to come to terms with and learn from tragedy, while actively building on the seeds of hope and reconciliation.

This is a journey we are walking together with all stakeholders. We are pleased to have received an overwhelmingly constructive response from those affected by the tragedy, and those in the district who live under its shadow.

• Froneman is CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater.

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