Avoiding Marikana: Four Years On 1

The Marikana massacre four years ago, was a watershed moment in South African labour relations. The Farlam Commission into the tragedy pointed out multiple failures on all sides. For employers, the failure of management on a number of levels makes for sober reading. However, it is tempting to heave a sigh of relief at their monumental failures and think that we would never get it so wrong. It is a sobering thought that the problems did not start on 16 August 2012, nor even on 10 August when the strike started. The fundamental problem wasn’t one of unions and wage negotiations, or even housing. It was a failure to listen. It was a failure to communicate. It was a failure to be honest.

Ben Magara took over as Lonmin CEO in August 2013. In an August 2015 interview for the GIBS Acumen publication Magara said he had spent his first 100 days on the job just listening to employees anywhere and everywhere. He also began to get his managers back to taking responsibility for people management, a job too easily outsourced to HR.

‘It all starts with people,’ Magara said, ‘and it all starts with conversations. This may sound obvious but these can be very painful and very trying if battle lines have already been drawn. And, frankly, miners would prefer to view spreadsheets and operate machinery than deal with what have been traditionally viewed as soft issues.’ (SA Board for People Practices, ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong?’ 2015)

‘It all starts with people and it all starts with conversations.’ Impossibly simple; extraordinarily difficult.

What are your thoughts?

What conversations will you initiate this week?

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About Ian Webster

I have been running my own consultancy (Simply Communicate) for five years – training and consulting in all things people management and development. Prior to that I was 16 years in corporate HR in a unionised environment becoming Training Manager and Human Resources Manager. I have a Degree in Theology and a post-graduate diploma in Human Resources Management.

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