Programme Director and Vice President of the Chamber of Mines, Khanyisile Kweyama;
President of the Chamber of Mines, Mark Cutifani;
Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
Representatives of Labour;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for inviting me to address this 2nd Annual Mining Lekgotla whose theme focuses on global competitiveness, transformation and growth of the mining industry.
I would like to welcome our international guests who have come from all over the world to share their insights and experiences— all in the good spirit of helping us take our mining industry forward.
All of us know the importance of the mining sector in the modernisation of South Africa.
In fact mining is profoundly interwoven with the history of our country. Even today it continues to determine the historical trajectory of our nation in many ways and will continue to shape the future we seek to build.
This lekgotla is yet another opportunity for the key role players in the mining industry to share views and find solutions to the problems that afflict this sector.
While I understand that this initiative is the brainchild of the Chamber of Mines, the National Union of Mineworkers and Department of Mineral Resources, it is important that events of this nature are as inclusive of all stakeholders and role players in the mining sector as possible.
I believe there are many critical mining industry issues that merit conscientious attention in this engagement over the next three days; the most important component of which is the focus it places on collaborative partnership.
Mining remains central to South Africa’s economy and job creation.
The industry accounts for 6 per cent of GDP, generates 60 per cent of our export revenues and is a valuable contributor to corporate taxes.
Mines employ 2.9 per cent of South Africa’s economically active population, which translates into more than half a million direct jobs.
To be successful at turning this industry around requires conscious effort to make structural changes to the economy and for us to become more innovative in our quest for improving productivity levels.
The South African mining sector faces problems arising from a convergence of the cumulative effects of past policies, practices and a global economic environment characterised by declining demand for commodities such as platinum and gold.
Over the years the mining industry, supported by a raft of discriminatory legislation, has developed methods of making super-profits by relying on the super-exploitation of unskilled workers.
Despite the advent of democracy and the repealing of these discriminatory laws the mining industry has continued to rely on archaic practices that have not kept up with modern productive methods.
As a result the collective bargaining methods and institutions that we have developed over 18 years of democracy have been somewhat compromised by these archaic practices.
One of these undesirable practices that need immediate attention is the migrant labour system which continues to be a scar on the face of democratic South Africa.
The harmful effects of the migrant labour system are aptly explained in Gavin Hartford’s analysis of the mining sector:
“The hard reality is that the pattern of migrant labour super-exploitation – characterised by 12 long months with only a Christmas and Easter break – has remained unaltered in the 18 years of democracy.
There has been no overhaul and investment in the migrant labour system at all. There has been no attempt to find new ways to effect a more humane ?system of migrancy akin to the best migrant labour systems of the world.
There has been no effort to create a system that rebuilds the migrant miners nuclear family through short work cycles; that would ensure a re-instatement of maximum remittances home to increase cash flow to the rural poor; that would significantly reduce the propensity for HIV infections; that would enhances attendance and reduce absenteeism driving up both productivity and ensuring that mining becomes a more attractive industry to work in and invest in.
Sadly, the mining industry has remained a prisoner of its apartheid past in this core element of cheap labour sourced through a migrants punishing annual work cycle and all the social evils associated with that cycle.
No amount of employment equity plans and empowerment transactions have ventured to tamper with this spinal essence of the industry.”
The democratic conditions in which the industry is now operating require that it re-skills the labour force and rewards them commensurate with their contribution.
In light of these changing realities, the industry must therefore transform itself by focusing on ideas to improve productivity through innovation, human resource development and training.
To move forward, the industry must break with its undesirable past by making workers feel valued for their contribution as wholesome human beings that must have decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods, including proper housing, recreation and time with families.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
A cursory reading of the topics under consideration shows who they cover many of the critical areas. However, In this Lekgotla I get a sense that the issues of improving and sustaining productivity is likely to fall through the cracks.
As such I have taken the liberty to remind the lekgotla that the core business of mining is production.
I am therefore looking forward to deliberations and suggestions on how to improve and sustain productivity in a democratic South Africa where workers enjoy labour rights.
In the same vein, understanding that all of us have a claim to stake in the mining industry, we equally expect workers to understand that they have a contribution to make and that with their labour rights come responsibilities.
In other words, in principle at least, the more the mining industry thrives the more workers will be equitably rewarded for their efforts.
The industry and its workers have a collective responsibility to work together in tackling existing challenges.
In this regard, government’s primary responsibility is to create an enabling environment.
As such government has no intention to micro-manage mining companies. Save for the ever-present room for improvement, our legislative framework is sufficient for regulating the environment within which the industry operates.
All role-players in the mining sector must engage meaningfully to build relationships based on trust and mutual symbiosis necessary to bringing stability to the sector and advancing the South African economy.
Each partner brings unique insights, understandings and inputs to the table, which augurs well for finding practical and sustainable solutions to the challenges the sector experiences.
All must dedicate the necessary capacity and time to ensure that we succeed in stabilising this important sector of our economy.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Last month government, organised labour and business committed to continue working together to stabilise the mining sector and set it on a more sustainable footing.
This commitment is expressed in the Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry adopted by all parties.
All stakeholders have committed to improve processes and procedures as well as implement new measures that bring about lasting change while working together to sustain the sector by:
Building a working relationship among stakeholders that is based on trust and respect;
Ensuring the rule of law, safety and security and ending violence and conflict;
Accelerating transformation and beneficiation within prevailing legislation, regulations, charter and existing agreements;
Eliminating negative social and economic legacies and empowering workers;
Taking necessary steps to create greater certainty and predictability in policy and regulations;
Repositioning the mining industry to become more attractive to investors and a more meaningful contributor to job creation;
Accelerating the implementation of human settlement intervention to ensure that there is proper housing for mineworkers; and lastly,
Attending to the problem of high levels of indebtedness of mineworkers.
All parties have agreed that it is important to ensure that peace and stability prevail and that human beings and property are protected so as to create an environment conducive to development.
We recently commemorated the tragic events that occurred in Marikana in August 2012 which claimed lives.
This occurrence was a tragic loss of lives that could have been avoided.
As we are all aware the President has appointed the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, which we are confident will help us to get to the bottom of this sad chapter in our history.
We must do all that is within our powers to honour and respect the memory of those who have lost their lives by addressing all the social determinants which led to these tragic events.
Our Labour Relations Act (LRA) lays a foundation for labour relations in South Africa and also guarantees the right of workers to join a union of their choice declare disputes, strike and engage in any form of peaceful protest.
All matters pertaining to labour relations, including union recognition agreements, verification of members and wage negotiations must be conducted within the framework of the law.
Allow me to conclude by invoking the spirit of M Scott Peck’s words that:
“the truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways of truer answers”.
Nothing can be truer about the challenges facing the mining industry today. I am therefore confident that through mutual co-operation we will overcome these challenges and realise a healthy and prosperous mining industry that will contribute to the creation of a better life for all our people.
In the final analysis our approach should be guided by the maxim which says the past we inherit the future we create.