‘In our view, a strong financial return should be fairly balanced with a concrete social return’
RIVAL bids for Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat) from Northam Platinum and Impala Platinum (Implats) forced Steve Phiri to defer his planned retirement last year in order to see his beloved RBPlat through the ensuing uncertainty. Unfortunately that uncertainty could yet drag on as the long-stop date on Northam’s bid is June 30. Phiri is more indignant than flattered by interloper Northam.
That’s because his preference was for the 100% takeover of his company by Implats, which runs adjacent operations. Instead, Northam pulled the rug out from under his feet by acquiring the 34.5% stake in RBPlat held by its largest shareholder, Royal Bafokeng Holdings. It was a coup Phiri decried; he described it as the abandonment of minority shareholders “at harvest time”. In 2022, RBPlat was riding the crest of a wave: RBPlat had delivered record earnings, which enabled it to double the dividend.
Now, however, company employees are feeling the effects of the corporate distraction. Production rates have fallen at a time of unit cost inflation. Exogenous factors have also weighed heavily, including a cooling (but not a collapse) in platinum group metal prices. Eskom power curtailments have also exerted pressure on the business. In this context, it would be better for RBPlat to have one owner, rather than a joint venture, as “decisions are taken quickly and efficiently”, says Phiri. He should know: for six years he led Johannesburg-listed Merafe Resources, a joint venture that has mining giant Glencore as its partner.
LIFE OF STEVE
Phiri, who turns 67 this year, was born in Phokeng, Rustenburg, and holds a legal degree from the University of the North. He practised as an attorney before he became head of corporate and legal affairs for the Royal Bafokeng Nation. His first job as a CEO was at Merafe Resources, at the time that the Royal Bafokeng held a stake of 29%. After six years at Merafe, Phiri moved to RBPlat. He is a progressive leader, who has introduced green energy generation at RBPlat and has proudly announced the company’s appointment of its first-ever female CFO, Rotshidzwa Manenzhe.