Repairing weak leadership crucial in saving SA’s mining sector

IN a New Year’s message, Chamber of Mines CEO, Roger Baxter, said the Chamber had made progress in the battle against corruption and unethical leadership. He believed this progress had laid the foundation to “make mining matter” for the country in 2018, with the proviso that there should be collaborative leadership among interested parties.

Although the Chamber committed itself to playing a key leadership role in 2018, collaborative leadership will be difficult because the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and the large mining unions have been compromised precisely owing to unethical leadership.

Most mining houses have competent CEOs because of the complexity of running a mining house and the oversight role that company boards and shareholders play in appointing executive officers. A negative aspect is that the leadership problem of mining houses lies at mine level, where the obsolete autocratic management style is still prevalent, resulting in conflict with trade unions.

By way of illustration, it was accepted initially that AMCU’s (Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union’s) militant approach was the cause of the regular unprotected (illegal) industrial action at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu Mine. But on closer examination it was found that management’s obsolete management style of ‘I say, you do’ was the major factor in the regular conflict. Assertive union regional leaders were consequently fighting fire with fire.

Mining houses will have to urgently address their mid-level leadership problem, because this is the level where labour relations are being exercised, and participative leadership and cajolery at executive level is useless if not embraced at all levels.

An exemplary initiative is Anglo American’s policy with regard to visible felt leadership where their executive leaders, accompanied by senior government officials and union leaders, regularly visit mines to hear first-hand about the challenges faced by mineworkers, and especially to listen to suggestions regarding mine safety. In this way the ‘we–they’ barrier between workers and management is demolished.

As in the case of Harmony, regional leaders of mining unions such as the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) and AMCU constitute the backbone of the unions because they are elected to leadership positions on the grounds of their successes, while their top leaders are elected mainly through politicking.

The NUM, whose former leadership consisted of people such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe, James Motlatsi, Kgalema Motlanthe, Senzeni Zokwana and Frans Baleni, currently is a mere shadow of what it used to be.

The NUM’s next national leadership election will be held in June 2018 amidst the gold sector’s wage negotiations, and the union will have to ensure that its national leadership complements its regional leaders. Equally alarming is the fact that AMCU’s autocratic one-man show by its president, Joseph Mathunjwa, is drawing strong resistance from the union’s regional leaders. To the detriment of the sector, AMCU has been focusing more on leadership fights and personal benefit than on the woeful condition of mining.

Unfortunately, the weakest link in the sector’s leadership chain is Mosebenzi Zwane, Minister of Mineral Resources. Zwane is the Chamber’s biggest challenge and the mining sector’s biggest enemy, in particular because he has destroyed all consultation structures established by his predecessors to ensure all role-players are always aligned and because of his poor handling of the latest version of the Mining Charter.

The application by the Chamber and other interested parties for the Charter in its present form to be abolished will be heard by the North Gauteng High Court from 19 to 21 February 2018. Anglo American CEO, Mark Cutifani, Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, and Cyril Ramaphosa, newly elected president of the governing party, recently said a negotiated settlement on the Charter was the only way out.

However, the weak leadership of Zwane under the guidance of the equally weak President Jacob Zuma has been rendering meaningful dialogue impossible.

While the Chamber has to fill the mining sector’s leadership vacuum, Ramaphosa will have to fill the political vacuum and lead warring parties to an agreement and in so doing lure much-needed international mining investors back to South Africa.

The preferred due date for a settlement would have been before the start of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, but a revised due date will be very early in February before the ‘who’s who’ of the global mining industry converges on Cape Town from 5 to 8 February for the annual international mining indaba.

In 2018, the mining sector needs the kind of leaders that comply with the views of the leadership guru John Maxwell, namely that “… a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Cyril and Roger, will it be you?

Gideon du Plessis is the general secretary of Solidarity, a union.



  1. THE problem is: At this point, by virtue of association, we don’t know how to discern between those who are part of the problem and those who are part of the solutuon. It’s gone on for so long that “change” is just political rhetoric and compromise is simply unaffordable (keeping all sides “happy”).

    One fact is undeniable though, desperation will drive State, Capital and Labour to evolve beyond the caricatures they have sadly become.

  2. It is too late for South African mining. It will continue to suffer and eventually die… All of the competent managers have left South Africa and will never return. Mine level appointments are made on political bases, so talented and competent people leave the industry and in most cases the country where they are very successful. Thank you Zwane-Zupta…

  3. du Plessis must be complimented for identifying the autocratic management style ( the 1886 model) still prevalent on mines as a serious problem. Integrate this management style with in / under – experienced managers and the result is a perfect storm of under achieving mines – see Gold speculator’s comments about South Deep etc. Most experienced staff of caucasian descent are waiting for pension day …. know quite a few people in this dilemma – working in a very stressful environment waiting for pension is not fun.

    In reality , the future of mining is still bleak ; no exploration = no new mines . Coupled with the corruption and incompetence that afflicts the DMR ………….

    Lastly add the strengthening of the ZAR against the USD ….

  4. The BIG mining houses are sinking, one is mentioned in the article above due to incompetency’s and corruption. Its just sad to see everyone going about their daily tasks while the Titanic is sinking. The so called Speak Up against unethical behavior has just become a poster against the wall and a way to identify people who speaks out.

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