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Sibanye-Stillwater CEO says ‘Marikana’ won’t be swept under the carpet

Pedestrians walk along the roadside near the Wonderkop informal settlement as the Marikana mine, operated by Lonmin Plc, stands illuminated in the distance in Marikana, South Africa, on Friday, 6 November, 2015. (Photo: Kevin Sutherland/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

During an online Platinum Group Metals Industry Day organised by Resources 4 Africa, Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said the company made a conscious decision to retain the name ‘Marikana’ when it acquired Lonmin’s assets. Froneman said he did not want the tragedy to be ‘swept under the carpet’.

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said the company had decided to retain the Marikana name in response to a question from former Harmony Gold CEO Bernard Swanepoel.

Swanepoel asked: “I’ve always wondered if this Marikana brand is going to be an overriding negative. If you present in America do people get that it wasn’t you?”

Swanepoel, of course, was referring to the Marikana Massacre of 16 August 2012, when police shot dead 34 mine workers during a violent wildcat strike at the mine, which was then operated by Lonmin. Ten other people were killed in strike-related clashes leading up to that fateful incident. 

Marikana is now part of Sibanye’s stable after the company acquired what was left of Lonmin. 

“It is something we went into with our eyes wide open. If we had paid a full price for the assets this would probably have offset an acquisition,” Froneman said. So given the stain of Marikana, Sibanye would not have gone through with the acquisition at a steeper price than it paid.

Froneman, who is known for his candid manner, went on to say that “we got the assets so cheaply really that we could take on the risk. I think that we also have the courage of our convictions to make the difference that hasn’t been made.”

He said the previous management was “intricately involved and found it extremely difficult to defend what they had done because they were part of it. When we came in we had no legal liability and we consciously decided that we were not going to change the name to something that tried to sweep the tragedy under the carpet. And obviously Lonmin is not an appropriate name; it’s got colonial connotations.”

Froneman said Sibanye wanted to change the dialogue around Marikana to one of “healing and renewal”. 

On that front, the company has provided housing to six of the Marikana widows with 19 planned by the end of the year. It is surely a searing indictment that neither Lonmin nor the ANC-led government did anything like this for the widows.

And the mine, which would have faced closure if Lonmin had folded with no takers for its assets, is now making money. Sibanye got back the money it paid for the mine in one year from cash flow.

Marikana is a name that is seared into South Africa’s memory, evoking the inequality and violence which has so disfigured this nation’s history. But it need not have only negative connotations. DM/BM

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