Moving South Africa’s mining sector into the 21st century – Mamphela Ramphele -by Geoff Candy ( – November 17, 2012)

A crisis should never be wasted

GEOFF CANDY: Hello and welcome to this newsmaker podcast my name is Geoff Candy and joining me on the line is Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. She’s an author, academic, activist and self-described change agent. She’s been at the height of many of the issues South Africa has faced during its transition from apartheid to democracy. She’s helped found the black consciousness movement in the country and has had transformation very much in the site since the 1970s. She’s the founder of Letsema circle and more recently the Citizens Movement.

She served as the vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town as well as the managing director of the World Bank. She’s also the chairwoman of Goldfields. Dr. Ramphele thank you for joining me. Now the last in the wave of strikes have affected the country’s mining sector since the tragic events at Marikan, ended yesterday but we’ve seen strikes flaring up in other sectors. One gets the sense that while the strikes have to an end for the moment this was only the opening salvo in a much bigger transformation. Would you agree with that?

DR. MAMPHELA RAMPHELE: I would absolutely agree that we are paying the price of having neglected to pay attention to the urgent need for restructuring or the transformation of our socio economic reality because we inherited in 1994 an economic system and a social system that persists to date. So the political transformation which saw the fantastic constitutional democracy coming to be and all of the wonderful institutions that we have was not matched by socio economic transformation and now we having, almost like a pot with three legs but the one leg is very short and the pot is beginning to tumble.
GEOFF CANDY: Did the strikes achieving anything, do you think?

DR. MAMPHELA RAMPHELE: The strike was a great reminder to South Africans that we have an unfinished business. It’s a tragedy that it had to happen in the way it did because violence is never an answer to any problem however acute, but violence is the language of powerless people. So, to the extent that mine workers felt not listened to by, first of all by their own unions, second by their own employer and third by the government and ordinary people like you and me. They felt that the only way they could be heard is through these dramatic wildcat strikes and, unfortunately, the costly way of communicating.

GEOFF CANDY: In terms of what happened now, one gets the sense that they’ve been heard but I can’t see necessarily that we’ll see change coming too quickly.

DR. MAMPHELA RAMPHELE: My views always is that a crisis should never be wasted. Now that we’ve recovered from the shock of the crisis everyone in the mining sector should be sitting down in their boardrooms and saying what are we going to do in a short term to ensure stability. What are going to do in the medium term to address the fundamental conditions of service problem that the industry has been ignoring all these years. The issue on the migrant labour systems. The issues of unskilled labour in the 21st-century. Issues of safety and health for mine workers. Issues of fair compensation for people who are doing very dangerous work. All those things are issue that needs to be attended to in the medium term and by medium term, and by medium term I mean in the next year to three years. Then we need to be in the same way or at the same, start really painting for ourselves a vision of the mining industry in South Africa which is appropriate for the 21st century.

And that’s the long-term that we need to be thinking about: How do we take advantage of this enormous endowment that we’ve got in mineral resources, the biggest that is known and yet we’ve have missed out on the opportunities that other mining countries have had through the resources boom that has just now ended. And, at the heart of it is that we did not re-engineer our mining processes for the 21st century. We are still using the same old 19th century approaches and so issues of productivity, of safety and of trust within the working environment have to be addressed through a much bold and much more imaginative approaches.

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