The Tribe Has Spoken: South African Miners – Please leave the island!

10 October 2013, Bernard Swanepoel

Although I wasn’t a follower of Survivor, my understanding is that the basic concept was that the losing tribe had to vote to eject one of its members from the island. Typical of human nature, it was not necessarily the weakest or the most “deserving” member, but often an innocent or even strong one.

It feels, in much the same vein, that SA society has come to the overwhelming conclusion that mining is “bad”.  Bad businesses, bad employers, bad neighbours and bad corporate citizens. Maybe I am a bit sensitive… but if that is not true, then why does it seem like they are wishing us away?

Just to clarify: I am not talking here about the good people of Camps Bay not wanting a kaolin mine on their “stoeps”. Nor am I talking about the irrational fringe of “greenies” that seemingly want to freeze millions of years of evolution just because things are perfect as they are right now.

What I am really concerned about is the future of mining in SA. There are many countries in the world which have managed to move beyond mining. We as SA mining are on the brink of losing our social license to operate.

No, it’s not fair. But neither is cultural discrimination, sexism, racism or a world order that creates poverty.

Unfortunately it’s more than a feeling: three very well respected reports have brought me to this concerning conclusion that mining is about to be “voted off the island”:

What to do? Some argue that if we just put the “facts on the table” or throw R20 million at a fancy ad campaign…then even the illiterate unemployed will get how good we are. If only it were that simple! I believe that we need our credible, elected leaders to create the space and environment in which ordinary citizens can open their minds to and respond to a balanced reasonable rendition of the facts. We need a unifying context: that builds hope for the future – just like Madiba did for SA and rugby in 1995 at the Rugby World Cup.

Instead, right now, national leaders blame mining for all that is wrong with our country. Local municipalities jump at the chance to distract attention away from their own incompetence and corruption.  Mine employees (the lucky ones) with some of the best paying jobs in the country demand more and more, and the unemployed masses think that killing the golden goose makes more sense than waiting for the trickle down benefits. My one wish before I get evicted from this island is the following:  rather than being treated like a step-child in a dysfunctional relationship, wouldn’t it be great to have a minister who would champion mining first and foremost, warts and all. Who would “love” us like a parent loves and supports their own child, naughty or not, unconditionally. That may just buy us enough “immunity” to survive as an industry.