South Africa

NEAL FRONEMAN: Building a new legacy of healing and hope at Marikana

It is said that history is a people’s memory. The events at and around Lonmin's Marikana mining operations that in 2012 culminated in a tragedy at Wonderkop in which 44 lives were lost, will be remembered as one of the most visibly traumatic events in our industry and country’s history.

We must never forget. As Prof Thuli Madonsela so eloquently put it during the Marikana memorial lecture in August last year, Marikana happened because we forgot to remember our country’s past and how the past influences the present. The way forward lies in mutual healing among all stakeholders, from that unjust and ugly past and the legacy it has left us.

We judge the past critically. Neither legal processes nor commissions have brought any closure or sense of justice for the widows, children and families of those who died. Nor have they brought closure for the communities that were scarred by violence. And it has not brought closure for the police officers who were involved that day. Could we ever have expected that it would? 

Achieving closure was never going to be simple as the weight of people’s pain, anger and grief can be so great that it prevents the emergence of a new, different future. Perhaps it is not closure that we seek but renewal — recognising the past, collaborating in a transition to something new and creating a new future for generations to come.

Trauma is both powerful and paradoxical — it has the power to destroy and it has the power to renew. We cannot change what happened in the past, but the actions we take based on our decisions today can transform our future. The only way to move forward is to be brave enough to imagine what we can be, while taking heart and learning from the hard-earned lessons of the past.

Last year brought with it another tragedy on a global scale with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions of people have lost their lives and their livelihoods. As the world grapples to come to terms with, and recover from, the greatest public health crisis in living memory, many leaders, institutions and organisations around the world are putting in place measures to “Build Back Better” post-Covid. These measures are based on reimagining a better way forward.

This is the same sentiment that underlines our vision, of co-creating a new, positive and sustainable future for all stakeholders, beyond the tragedy of Marikana’s past. We believe we have been given an opportunity and responsibility to create a new future at Marikana by delivering on our purpose of improving lives through responsible mining. We strongly believe that through delivering tangible and sustainable programmes Sibanye-Stillwater will benefit communities around Marikana sustainably, ensuring that a new legacy of healing and hope will emerge.

Our vision is built on three core pillars. The first is to honour the lives that were lost and to support those for whom the loss was greatest. We have erected a Wall of Remembrance to acknowledge the victims of the tragedy; we provide ongoing support and counselling to the widows and their children, including committing to building houses for the widows and families who have not yet benefited from the activities of the Amcu Trust. So far we have handed over seven complete houses and another eight are at different stages of construction. The delivery of all 16 outstanding houses will be complete by the end of this year.

Through the Lonmin memorial fund Sibanye-Stillwater has supported 89 dependants at a total cost of R3.6m to date. Five of these completed their final year of school in 2020, with nine students at tertiary level. Through the Sixteen-Eight Memorial Fund we continue to support 141 beneficiaries by providing counselling and educational assistance. The trust also spent R6.5m on educational assistance in 2020.

The second pillar is engagement. We are part of a stakeholder community and wish to be partners in the creation of a new future at Marikana. To be able to achieve this we need to listen as well as speak, we need to collaborate and not impose, and we need to forge a mutually beneficial way forward knowing that as a company we are but one role player in the community in which we live and work.

Our relationship and engagement with our doorstep communities in SA are expected to be greatly enhanced in 2021 with our strategic efforts to rebuild trust with community stakeholders and formalise a social compact, agreed by all and for the benefit of all. Largely based on the tenets of the Zambezi Protocol, the proposed social compact prioritises mutually respectful relationships, which will help develop a more trusting relationship with this vital stakeholder.

We know we need to build strong foundations for this process to be successful, based on inclusive representation and trust. With this in mind, key community stakeholder engagement has begun. We are being guided by our vision of being a good neighbour — seizing opportunities and navigating challenges from the perspectives of key stakeholders in a meaningful way. They are following what we are calling the Letsema Process, which aims to facilitate conversations to promote “walking together”. Key to trust-building, the Letsema Process is iterative in nature, requiring a series of meetings with stakeholders through various phases of engagement.

The third component is our opportunity to create — more specifically to co-create socioeconomic value by optimally managing our business in a responsible way and in so doing creating and sustaining jobs, paying salaries and wages to employees who live and work in the community; by paying taxes and royalties to the regional and national fiscus; and creating direct and indirect economic opportunities that will ultimately lead to economic upliftment and social wellbeing.

Being a good neighbour is part of our social and economic compact with communities, and at the heart of this renewal programme is a commitment to invest in and sustain our operations, our people and our communities. We cannot and should not do this alone. Our efforts towards economic restoration and cross-sector collaboration can only be achieved through identifying and unlocking opportunities for district-wide economic programmes.

This week marks the formal launch of Sibanye-Stillwater’s Marikana Renewal Process, under the patronage of the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba. The path forward will not be an easy one. But we as South Africans have the ability to find one another, develop a new vision for where we want to be, and work to achieve that.

• Neal Froneman is Sibanye-Stillwater CEO

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