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The Marikana Memorial Lecture: Lessons we learnt from that fateful day

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Dr Mamphela Ramphele is a medical doctor, political activist, academic and businesswoman. She is a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and Managing Director of the World Bank. She is the Acting Chairperson of the Desmond Tutu Intellectual Property Trust.

We need to embrace healing as a continuous process to reconnect our souls, minds and bodies as individuals and as the collective we call a nation.

Today we celebrate the lives of those who were caught up in the events of that fateful day in August 2012. Their courage to challenge what they regarded as an unsustainable business model that excluded them from sharing the value they contributed to, triggering the transformation process we are witnessing today. The lessons learned from that challenge and its tragic consequences are beginning to bear fruit.

Today we also celebrate the resilience and courage of those who lost loved ones and colleagues in the tragic events for being willing to go beyond their pain to be part of shaping a future that would be built on lessons learned by all.

Many of the key lessons that have emerged and are emerging from the courageous leadership of Sibanye Stillwater in partnership with many inside and outside the company to transform its mining operations to reflect the centrality of the following two principles:

The first principle is that indigenous African wisdom is a rich resource for reimagining sustainable prosperity in all we do.

Artificial intelligence has taken the world by storm as everyone jostles to be part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, many scientists are turning to nature and indigenous knowledge to learn about a higher intelligence – nature’s intelligence. Nature’s intelligence comes from learning from nature’s accumulated knowledge from millions of years of experimenting with ways of doing things that are regenerative and sustainable.

Africa, the cradle of humanity, is also the cradle of nature’s intelligence captured in the philosophy of Ubuntu. Our ancestors learned aeons ago that human beings, like all other species in the web of life, thrive best when each one contributes their best to the common good within the ecosystems they live in.

The mining industry in South Africa would have a brighter future if it were to embrace this wisdom and transform its operations from extractive models towards regenerative ones. Regenerative open spaces for all participants are essential for all to bring their best into their collaborative work to generate shared prosperity.

Imagine a transformed institutional culture that affirms the dignity of all and celebrates the diverse contributions each participant brings. Imagine the rise in energy levels that would be unleashed. Imagine the growing trust levels that would encourage all to share their ideas because they would know that each one of them matters and they are better together. Imagine what creativity would be unleashed when each participant is confident that they would share in the additional value they could bring to the institution!

The transition from the traditional colonial extractive mining model would require investments in transformative processes to bring people along into a future that would be better than the past and present. Such a transition requires healing of the wounds of past models.

This brings us to the second principle, letsema healing circles, which is built on the wisdom of Ubuntu.

The organisation with which I am associated and which is working with Sibanye Stillwater, ReimagineSA, has revived the traditional custom of letsema (ilima) circles used by our ancient ancestors to call people together to converse and deliberate on complex matters that cannot be dealt with by individual families or clans. These circles were also the preferred model for regular participatory governance deliberations for communities in traditional societies across much of Africa.

The beauty of letsema circles is that the seating arrangement – a circle – is a social leveller. Every participant is at the same level as all others. Age, gender, standing and class don’t matter. The traditional leaders sit at the same level as all other community people.

The Marikana massacre opened our eyes to the massacre of our own souls as a nation. The long history of colonial conquest, apartheid colour coding, and post-1994 failures to heal the wounds of the past and, establish a democratic, just society where human rights reign and opportunities are created for the talents of all, has left our souls deeply wounded.

We need to embrace healing as a continuous process to reconnect our souls, minds and bodies as individuals and as the collective we call a nation.

The letsema circles of healing are powerful spaces for us to come face to face with one another in order to heal the broken links from past and present traumas. Human beings are at their best when they feel they belong within the family of other human beings. Interconnectedness and interdependence are the essence of life.

Letsema circles not only heal brokenness, but also enable more effective and efficient working approaches and institutional cultures that promote trust and teamwork. This enables us to:

  • Co-discover approaches that work best;
  • Co-initiate agenda-setting processes;
  • Co-inspire one another to nurture newfound confidence;
  • Communicate to learn more about one another’s strengths to be celebrated and weaknesses to be managed;
  • Co-create solutions that are sustainable and inclusive; and
  • Co-invest in unleashing the potential of each person to bring the best of themselves to the collective work.

The collaborative work we have done together with all the social partners, including Sibanye Stillwater, has enriched all of us. We have also learned that transformation is a long-term process that requires renewal to keep going.

We have also learned about our own limitations. By working together, we are able to make the whole to be larger than the sum of the parts.

What has been achieved over the last year or so has laid a strong foundation for a future we can co-create and be proud of. DM/BM

Mamphela Ramphele is co-president of ReimagineSA

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  • Dr. Ramphele’s idea of bringing Ubuntu and Letsema into modern life is praiseworthy, but unfortunately impractical with 7-billion people on Earth. Even 60-million in SA cannot re-introduce these concepts.
    These ideas are not unique to Africa either and have been tried and tested among people on all continents.
    There are many examples where these principles have been used in the mining industry. Sitting on a board of directors is very different from working at the coal face. At the coal face workers’ lives often depend on practising exactly these on concepts. However, bringing it in as a working model into the highest levels of the corporate and governmental organisations is not achievable in its purest forms.
    Here and there it may make
    a difference to an individual’s life, but not as a general philosophy for planet Earth.