South Africa

South Africa

Mining and money: Sibanye’s struggle to avoid a repeat of history

In the wake of the Marikana massacre, mining companies faced renewed criticism for not addressing the issues workers faced during the years of Apartheid and migrant labour. Mining houses are now on the offensive, trying to get workers and communities on side. GREG NICOLSON visits Sibanye Gold to look at some of their initiatives.

About 70 Sibanye Gold workers sit in staggered rows in the Kloof Satellite Campus training centre. A projector shows caricatures of money issues: a mineworker, a family consoling each other, a stressed white-collar worker, a confident businessman, and a faceless figure lumbering under the weight of the word “DEBT”. Facilitator Nonhlanhla Msweli asks the miners about necessary debt.

“Car!”

“Groceries.”

What’s unnecessary?

“Entertainment is not necessary,” says someone in the front.

“A R5,000 bag!”

“It is important that you do not spend more than you…” Mswelli waits for the crowd.

“Earn!”

“You have to learn to spend within your…”

“Means!”

The Sibanye miners are going through the Care for iMali programme, which aims to teach workers basic financial management and awareness skills to avoid indebtedness. Within a year of launching, 11,362 mine employees and members of their families and communities have been through the programme, which Sibanye says is one of the company’s most popular.

James Denton, head of The Performance Network Group, which runs the sessions, says the course comes down to five points. “Be truthful. Know what you earn. Know what you spend. Get out of trouble and stay out trouble. Make a plan and work your plan,” he says, touching each of his fingers.

Following the Marikana massacre, mining companies faced criticism for failing to transform the legacies of Apartheid operations, including the consequences of the migrant labour system. Through programmes like Care For iMali, they are now trying to recognise the challenges their workers face, outside routine wage demands, act on them, and improve their public image in the wake of instability and cries to nationalise the mines.

Greg Sibanye Family Units

Photo: Family units where some workers at Sibanye live and have the future option of purchasing. There has been a large demand at the mine for the units. (Greg Nicolson)

An issue raised after Marikana was the high level of indebtedness among mineworkers. In a press conference regarding the gold industry in December, featuring Sibanye, Harmony, AngloGold Ashanti, and Gold Fields, figures from 2013 showed 12.9 percent of employees across the mining sector had emolument detachment orders (EAOs) deducted from their pay, compared to 9.2 percent in manufacturing and 5.9 percent in health and social work. Each of the companies had plans to roll out financial wellness programmes and check the correctness of garnishee deductions. At Sibanye, scrutiny of EAOs has led to R220,000 being reimbursed to workers.

The press conference was held at the offices of PR firm Russell and Associates, which specialises in mining. “Did Marikana lead to the industry looking more closely at these issues? Absolutely,” says Charmane Russell, who heads the firm. While in the past mining companies have sometimes made commitments to workers to address non-wage issues that haven’t eventuated, either because they were misguided or there was a change in a company’s financial position, Russell said companies and unions are looking more broadly at social issues and on an issue like employee debt there’s wide recognition of the problem.

“We think we are doing some of the right things to make a change in the life of our employees,” says James Wellstead, Sibanye’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, in the company’s headquarters outside of Carletonville. “We understand that we have a critical role in the development of this country.” Marikana was a point that made the company realise there hadn’t been enough upliftment of workers and Sibanye must take a leadership role, not just rely on the government or unions to help employees.

“I think they recognise that we are trying to make a difference but we have to deliver on these things,” added Wellstead.

We drive to Sibanye’s Portable Skills Training Centre, where local youth are taught to specialise in trades. Around 2,000 community members have been through the training, apprenticeship level, receiving practical learning in fields such as carpentry, masonry, electrical domestic installation, garment making, chicken farming, vegetable farming, plumbing, welding, and mechanical repairs. The organisers say they don’t have the resources to track what participants do after the programme but it’s designed to help them get work or start their own businesses. They cite a number of success stories.

At the Masizakele hostel, housing 2,500 workers at the Driefontein operations who opt not to take the living out allowance, units have been converted from housing 36 people in the past to four currently. Each worker gets an individual room and shares a kitchen and bathroom. The rooms look similar to those you might find in a varsity residence. The dining hall looks more like a giant roadhouse diner, with a menu listing the weight of each item for nutritional planning, than a typical cafeteria. Across the Driefontein and Kloof mines, 762 family units, which employees have the option of purchasing, have been built over 10 years. They are well-kept and lined up in spacious rows with grass for children to play.

Last year, platinum company Lonmin was criticised at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry for failing over a number of years to build family houses for workers despite commitments to do so. Lonmin, like most other companies, have in the wake of the mining unrest again reiterated their commitment to addressing issues of housing and other challenges facing workers, which are often associated with the migrant labour system.

The question is, are the mining houses following through on their commitments and are they benefiting workers? President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) Joseph Mathunjwa asked whether companies are addressing fundamental issues or making “cosmetic” changes. He said paying a service provider to teach workers how to spend their low wages was “insulting”. “Do you think workers need to be taught how to spend R5,000? It’s patronising and insulting,” says Mathunjwa. AMCU is the majority union at Sibanye and is preparing for the upcoming wage negotiations in the gold sector, although the National Union of Mineworkers are still in the majority across the industry. The real issues, Mathunjwa says, are workers sharing in the wealth created from mineral resources and a living wage.

While those goals seem distant, Wellstead says Sibanye is looking into a “generous” profit-share scheme for workers, which needs to be negotiated with the unions. It’s also considering options to consolidate its workforce’s debt, which raises a number of complications.

Sitting in the Care for iMali course, Martin Grung, 45, an underground pump fitter at Sibanye, says the majority of mineworkers are deep in debt because they rely on overtime to feed a lifestyle of spending. He hopes the course will help him explain financial issues to his son so he can avoid the problems he has made. “Now, basically, I can take this home and show him what it’s all about. If you overspend you’re going to end up burning your hands. So it’s worth my while here, definitely.”

“There’s a lot I thought I knew about money and spending and saving but it turns out I didn’t know that much,” says Kgomotso Gubaza, a 31-year-old learner official at the mine. Gubaza took a personal loan from Capitec and then got a credit card from Nedbank to meet those payments. She sighs. “Now I’m [in] deep and don’t know how to get out. Because it’s more that I have to pay, more interest,” she says.

While the aim of financial wellbeing programmes is to make mineworkers’ salaries go further, programmes like Care for iMali and other initiatives still face challenges from workers upset with their level of pay and distrustful of their employers.

“This mine is not paying enough!” someone yells in the session. The facilitator explains that no matter how much you get paid, without managing your money properly you will still end up swimming in debt.

“That is very true,” says the worker, respectfully, “but the mine must also take more moves for pay increases.”

Outside the training centre, three miners in overalls who have already been through the programme share a cigarette. “It’s good if you have money. If you don’t have money it doesn’t help,” says the first.

The second agrees.

“It’s good,” says the third, “I don’t have money now but I am hoping for the future.” DM

Main photo: Care for iMali facilitator Nonhlanhla Msweli engages miners from Sibanye in a discussion on personal finances. (Greg Nicolson)

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