Teamwork is vital for mining to benefit all

  • 30 October 2013 | Tracey Henry| Opinion

South Africa’s beleaguered mining sector needs to foster greater co-operation with all stakeholders, including civil society, labour unions, the government and the private sector, in order to achieve mutual benefit for all parties concerned.

Tracey Henry

Such partnership is simple in theory but tough to implement in reality. We must first acknowledge that South African society faces deep developmental challenges, as well as social divisions, and that this reality does and must inform the motivations of all parties.

The mining sector is reliant on the government, host communities and civil society – including unions and development organisations. So, too, the government and unions are reliant on the sector and civil society for revenue, jobs and social cohesion. It is vital that all stakeholders are able to express their views but without losing sight of the fact that none can operate independently of the others.

In theory, all of these entities should be working towards a common goal, namely societal and economic transformation. Yet, more than a century since the local mining industry began to boom, we find ourselves in an often hostile environment. Nevertheless, all stakeholders in the sector have a vested interest in creating a competitive mining environment.

For example, research by Tshikululu in 2012 entitled The Labour Union Investment Landscape highlighted that during the previous five years the National Union of Mineworkers (as one of the unions researched) had contributed close on R250-million towards educational, skills development and community development interventions. And while the sector has invested billions in country-wide and local mining operation initiatives, a view is often expressed that it is focused on extractive value and not developmental value.

Partnerships

And so we find ourselves in a space where, despite the private sector’s contribution to job creation, gross domestic product, employment, as well as through significant investments in support of public-private partnerships, relations among partners often appear to be strained.

I make this statement with a sense of caution, knowing that worthwhile partnerships based on sincere goodwill have been established among senior leaders in the mining sector, government, unions and the development sector over time. Yet partnerships are often still very tough to implement. Some of the reasons for this include:

  • Lack of clarity with regard to mutual goals, roles, responsibilities and governance structures that guide decision-making
  • A hostile environment that perpetuates distrust and suspicion among partners
  • An imbalance of power between partners that inhibits frank and what are sometimes awkward discussions
  • Mavericks that create dissidence in working partnerships, and the absence of leadership to tackle the elephant in the room

So how do we create an environment conducive for business, the government and civil society to work together and to do so in a way that builds social cohesion?

First, partnerships should be based on clearly articulated needs, as well as a willingness to work together.

Second, there needs to be an incentive or mutual benefit to partner. Partnerships should not be based on a carrot and stick approach. Partners should work towards a win-win scenario and in the process be happy with a bit of give and take.

Third, partners need to agree on clearly defined outcomes which must be subject to rigorous, ongoing review and evaluation. Many partnerships fail because there isn’t a mutual understanding of what success will look like.

Last, demonstrate through your actions that you are a dependable and a credible partner that can be trusted. Be willing to share best practices and lessons learnt, including failures.

The sector itself needs to analyse what has and hasn’t worked in terms of partnerships and developmental interventions, replicate successes and eliminate failures.

Development does not take place in a vacuum, and focusing on piecemeal interventions that don’t contribute to systemic and sustainable impact will result in a very low return on your investment.

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