Findings of the Farlam Commission Report – how Lonmin Employment Relations Management practice compared to the SABPP HR Management Standard on ERM.

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The SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) is recognised by SAQA as a professional body for the Human Resources (HR) profession and is also the ETQA for HR learning provision. The HR profession is about supporting economic and social growth through good workplace people practices. 

In 2013, the SABPP adopted an HR Management System Model and Standard to provide the framework of good practice for the profession[1].  One of the elements of the Standard is Employment Relations Management (ERM). In addition, the South African HR Competency

See Appendix 1 for the full Model.

Model (appendix 2) provides a solid foundation for sound HR competence in dealing with socio-economic issues, in particular applying the competencies “Duty to society” and “Citizenship for the future.”

This paper uses the findings of the Farlam Marikana Commission of Enquiry to evaluate, in a desk top study, to what extent the decisions and actions of Lonmin as an employer are congruent with the ERM Standard.  The purpose of the paper is to provide a case study for the HR profession so that lessons learned can be absorbed and implemented widely within the profession. No interviews or further follow ups were conducted with Lonmin and therefore reasons for decisions and actions are not investigated nor commented on. We believe that the Farlam Commission conducted a very thorough investigation, and subjected the evidence to legal tests, therefore its report provides a very sound basis from which to draw relevant facts.

The SABPP ERM Standard

The ERM element of the National HR Standard defines ERM as:

The management of individual and collective relationships in an organisation through the implementation of good practices that enable the achievement of organisational objectives compliant with the legislative framework and appropriate to socio-economic conditions.

The objectives that an organisation should achieve in order to meet the Standard are: 

  1. To create a climate of trust, cooperation and stability within an organisation.
  2. To achieve a harmonious and productive working environment which enables the organisation to compete effectively in its market place.
  3. To provide a framework for conflict resolution.
  4. To provide a framework for collective bargaining where relevant
  5. To ensure capacity building and compliance to relevant labour legislation, codes of good practice (ILO and Department of Labour) and international standards.

Implementation of the Standard should follow the systemic approach shown below the article.

The main findings of the Commission

The main findings of the Commission, as they relate to Lonmin, are that: 

  • “Lonmin PLc did not use its best endeavours to resolve the disputes that arose between itself and the members of its work force who participated in the unprotected strike and between the strikers and those workers who did not participate in the strike. It also did not respond appropriately to the threat and outbreak of violence.

The Commission says this because it is of the view that Lonmin should in the special situation created by Impala’s action in unilaterally raising the wages of its Rock Drill Operators (RDOs) have negotiated with its RDOs and not initially sheltered behind the two year agreement and thereafter insisted it would only negotiate with NUM in which it knew the RDOs had no confidence.

  • Lonmin also failed to employ sufficient safeguards and measures to ensure the safety of its employees. In this regard it failed to provide its security staff with the armoured vehicles they needed for their protection despite being requested to do so. It also insisted that its employees who were not striking come to work despite the fact that it knew that it was not in a position to protect them from attacks by strikers.

“Lonmin’s reckless actions in urging employees to come to work in circumstances where they were aware of the potential dangers to them and in the full knowledge that they could not protect them, falls to be condemned in the strongest terms. Lonmin must, in the Commission’s view, bear a measure of responsibility for the injuries and deaths of its employees and those of its sub-contractors.” (The Commission recommended that these matters be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, North West, for further investigation and to determine whether there is a basis for prosecution.) 

  • Finally, it created an environment conducive to the creation of tension, labour unrest and disunity among its employees by failing to comply with the housing obligations undertaken by its two subsidiaries in the Social and Labour Plans on the strength of which it obtained new order mining rights.”

Note that, in addition to severe findings against the SA Police Service, there are also findings against AMCU and NUM, both of whom failed to exercise effective control over their members in ensuring that their conduct was lawful and did not endanger the lives of other persons; and against the individual strikers who promoted a situation of conflict and confrontation which gave rise to deaths and injuries and endangered the lives of other non-striking workers. 

This paper, however, confines itself to the evidence in relation to Lonmin’ employment relations management practices.

The time line of events

The Commission’s report established a time line of events and we extract from that the aspects relevant to ERM practice. 

Background – the housing situation

  • 2004 – Lonmin (Western and Eastern Platinum mines jointly) submitted and had approved a Social and Labour Plan (SLP) in terms of which they committed to phasing out all existing single sex hostel accommodation, converting hostels into bachelor or family units and building an additional 5500 houses for their migrant employees to replace the hostels. This was to be completed by September 2011. 
  • 2009 – Lonmin, in its close out report of the 5 year term of the SLP, reported an unachieved financial commitment of R665m on house construction. This was a shortfall of 41 hostel conversions out of 70 and a shortfall of 3197 houses against the target of 3300. This was attributed by the company to the impact of the global economy on the price of platinum.
  • 2010 – Lonmin’s Sustainable Development Report repeated the housing commitments of the SLP and recognised the principal risk of possible withdrawal of mining licences if the SLP is not delivered.  (As at 2012, there were about 23 000 employees in lower grades, of whom the majority were migrant workers.  5883 of these, including local workers, were in decent housing, making 25%.  The Commission noted that if the promised houses had been delivered, 54% would have been in decent housing and the remaining 45% would have seen tangible progress. Instead of which, the company had done nothing for over a decade and had pushed 7 out of every 8 hostel residents into the informal settlements.)

Background – the Impala strike and settlement

  • October 2011 - At Impala Platinum mine, close to the Lonmin shafts, NUM and management concluded a 2 year collective agreement on wages and conditions of employment.
  • 2 December 2011 – Lonmin and NUM concluded a 2 year wage agreement, in terms of which RDOs, as well as other workers, would receive an increase of 9 – 10%.
  • 18 December 2011 – Implats management unilaterally increased wages by a further 18% for “miners”, thereby undermining their own arguments in the October negotiations that they had no more money for further increases. These “miners” were mostly NUM members and the decision caused discontent against the union amongst both those who received increases and those who did not.
  • January 2012 – the RDOs at Implats went on an unprotected strike outside NUM structures to attempt to force management to further increase their wages. This strike was very violent. Implats dismissed its workforce in February, but later reinstated most of the workers, after reaching an agreement in April 2012 which involved increases of different amounts to the entire workforce which brought an end to the strike. In terms of this agreement, RDOs received a grade promotion which meant a 52.7% increase in guaranteed pay to R9 991.

Lonmin’s attempt to align with the Impala settlement

  • June 2012 – RDOs at Lonmin’s Karee mine elected 2 representatives who approached the senior manager at the mine with a request for a basic net salary of R12 500.  They said they did not want to involve any of the trade unions as their demand did not involve the entire workforce. The manager recommended to Lonmin management that the company engage with both the NUM and AMCU to reach agreement on allowances to bring the RDOs pay up to that of Implats. (Since 2011, AMCU had been in the majority at Karee mine, while NUM continued to be the large majority at both Eastern and Western Platinum.) Lonmin management, however, decided unilaterally to pay small additional monthly allowances.  Management did not discuss this even with NUM.   

The unprotected strike and subsequent violence

  • End July 2012 - Mr Mokwena, EVP for Human Capital and Exernal Affairs, telephoned Mr Mathunjwa of AMCU and informed him that there were rumours that there was going to be a march by employees of Lonmin to bring a memorandum to management in respect of wage demands. Mr Mathunjwa told him that he should hold a meeting with all unions. Mr Mokwena said he would speak to the General Secretary of NUM and would revert to Mr Mathunjwa, which he did not do.
  • 9 August – the RDOs at a large but peaceful meeting decided not to accept these allowances, not to go to work next day and to march to the company’s offices to demand the R12 500. The meeting decided not to involve any union because they came from different units and were members of different unions, but also because they did not trust NUM to take up their demands and AMCU lacked recognition by the company.  They elected a representative committee representing all three sections.
  • 9 August – Mr Mokwena was informed about this meeting and heard “strong rumours” (Commission’s report’s italics) that the workers were possibly intending to embark on a “wild cat strike” from the next day. He therefore drafted and issued a communique reminding employees that no demands outside of existing collective bargaining structures would be tolerated.  The communique also warned workers that the work stoppage would constitute unprotected industrial action, that any gathering would be in breach of the Regulation of Gatherings Act,  that the SAPS would be called in and that management would not hesitate to dismiss workers who participated.
  • 9 August – NUM held a mass meeting at Lonmin speaking against participation in strike action and telling members that they could not raise the demands for R12 500 because of the two year wage agreement (which union officials later conceded was incorrect). NUM would assist members who experienced difficulties in going to work.
  • 10 August – Lonmin workers began gathering at 6am. At 7am Lonmin managers, including the Senior Manager of ER (Mr Kwadi) held a meeting to review the situation. It was noted that workers had not reported for work. It was also noted that that AMCU had not aligned itself to the demand and NUM had distanced itself from the demand. At 8am workers began to march and management requested police assistance. Mr Mokwena phoned Mr Mathunjwa to tell him that employees were going to present a memorandum, to be received by SAPS. Mr Mathunjwa advised Mr Mokwena to emphasise to employees that receipt of such memorandum by the police should not be construed as constituting a precedent and that its contents would have to be dealt with by the structures within the company. (He then wrote a letter to the company confirming this.) The managers phoned the Executive Manager for Human Capital at Western Platinum (Mr Kgotle), who informed them that management would not speak to a faceless crowd when there were recognised and established structures in place whereby demands could be put to management.  It had just been decided by a management meeting that they would not accept a memorandum from the marchers because Lonmin would not bargain outside its established bargaining structures. Lonmin served papers in the Labour Court for an interdict.
  • As the march progressed, Lonmin security, accompanied by the SAPS commander, approached the crowd and asked them what they wanted.  6 of the workers came forward and spoke for the marchers.  Lonmin security informed them of the management decision and requested the crowd to put their demands in writing.  The crowd responded that they were illiterate and could not do so.  The security officials then reported back to management.
  • At this stage, Mr Kgotle issued a communique informing workers that their conduct amounted to serious misconduct and instructing them to report for duty. Failure to comply would lead to termination of employment.  This communique was conveyed to the crowd by the security officials, and then the workers’ representatives addressed the crowd.
  • At this stage, the mood of the crowd changed significantly and levels of aggression began to increase rapidly, and the security officials noted this and found it very unusual and disturbing. The security officials also noted that there were between 4 and 6 individuals who appeared to be able to influence the crowd.  It would appear that the report back by the representatives displeased the crowd, as, when asked by the crowd what the employer said they were supposed to do next, they reported that “the employer said we can do what we want”. The crowd then dispersed, after agreeing to gather again next morning to wait for a further response from management.
  • Management held a debriefing later that day, with SAPS in attendance. The meeting agreed on a communique which gave notice of intended disciplinary action against the marchers and thanked all employees who had reported for duty. It is not stated in the report how this communique was distributed to workers.
  • Later that evening, acts of intimidation started and security at one stage fired rubber bullets.   In response, NUM officials used their vehicle to take members to work.  Groups of strikers were at this stage observed to be carrying traditional weapons. Some of the intimidation seemed to have been demonstrating inter-union rivalry. NUM members, meanwhile accumulated weapons at their offices. According to a Lonmin security official, there was a strategy session to discuss the aggression and disturbing behaviour, but no notes were kept of this meeting.  Apparently also they expected workers to attack Lonmin property and intimidate workers, but not to attack NUM offices.  They apparently did not know that NUM offices at Impala had been attacked at some previous stage.
  • 11 August – the intimidation incidents were discussed at an 8am management briefing. Mr Kwadi warned that the actions of NUM would lead to faction fights between the unions. The security officials subsequently warned NUM officials and advised them to vacate their offices.
  • The strikers’ march and other incidents on this day were marked by high levels of aggression against NUM, apparently fuelled by information that AMCU members had been shot by NUM members, and the strikers were seen to be armed with assegais.  A fight took place at the NUM offices and NUM members fired shots at the crowd.
  • Security observations and intelligence found that the workers were bringing a sangoma and planning how to retaliate against NUM. 
  • In the afternoon, management met with NUM to attempt to defuse the situation and also decided to meet with AMCU. Cooperation with SAPS was felt to be inadequate and Mr Kgotle was asked to resolve this.  There is nothing in the report about a meeting between management and AMCU. From this point onwards, it is apparent the management and SAPS dealt with the situation in terms of inter-union rivalry.
  • 12 August – At 7.40 am a radio broadcast instructed employees to go back to work. A Lonmin Exco member, in his evidence, agreed that management was well aware of the dangers facing employees coming to work and he agreed that to encourage them to come to work was reckless as Lonmin was unable to adequately protect them. The strike continued.  Lonmin security failed to warn security personnel on the ground that the situation was very dangerous and in an escalation of violence, three security officials were killed by strikers.
  • It appears, from AMCU evidence, that there was a meeting between management and ‘leaders of other organisations’. AMCU had been invited by text message but did not respond.
  • 13 August – the strike continued and violence continued, with 5 deaths including 2 policemen. SAPS accordingly escalated their presence and activity. Mr Kwadi phoned Mr Mathunjwa stating that there was violence at the mine and something had to be done to stop it, and asking Mr Mathunjwa to intervene.
  • At a meeting between SAPS and management, management stated that the strikers were not known to them, they were ‘faceless’. Management also stated that the genesis of the problem was rivalry between AMCU and NUM. A separate discussion between the senior SAPS commander and Mr Kgotle conveyed allegations to Mr Kgotle that management at Impala were colluding with AMCU and she alleged that from a political point of view there was a feeling that the mining industry wanted to replace NUM with another face and that was why these things were erupting.  At an earlier meeting between the SAPS National Commissioner and Mr Kgotle, the National Commissioner had apparently told Mr Kgotle that if management gave the strikers leeway they could be seen as supporting them. 
  • 14 August – a SAPS negotiator engaged with the strikers, and five of the crowd came forward to talk to him. They told the negotiator that the strike was about wages and demanded to speak to management.  The gathering at that moment was about the killing of their members by NUM on 10 August.  The workers later requested the negotiators to withdraw until next day at 9am to allow the workers to discuss the process they wished to follow. This request was conveyed to management and the negotiators were told to agree to this.
  • While this was happening, SAPS was meeting with Mr Mokwena and the security manager. This meeting was recorded, although management initially did not hand this in to the Commission.  In initial statements, no-one at the meeting, including Mr Mokwena, mentioned the meeting. At this meeting, Mr Mokwena said that Lonmin’s priority was getting people arrested. He said it was very clear that AMCU was behind the strike and that AMCU had made media statements that they had presented the wage demand to management.  He later, in cross examination, withdrew both these statements.  On the tape, he also referred to a tape recording on which AMCU had said that Lonmin would remain ungovernable.  He later said that he had never heard this recording, and that Mr Kwadi, who apparently had the tape, was unwilling to hand it over. At this meeting, Mr Mokwena also said that Lonmin would not start to talk to the strikers outside organised bargaining structures. The senior SAPS official said that the workers felt they were in control because the employer was not telling them anything and not calling them to work.  She encouraged Mr Mokwena to communicate with the strikers and issue an ultimatum for them to come to work. She said it did not matter if the workers were angered because the police were here and would manage the situation. Mr Mokwena agreed to prepare a communique which would be delivered by helicopter. Other political considerations concerning a possible intervention by Julius Malema were introduced into this discussion also, and these discussions were strongly criticized in the report. The meeting concluded on the basis that the next day would be ‘D’ day, when the strikers either voluntarily laid down their arms and left the koppie or were forced to do so as a result of police action.
  • 15 August - In the event, the 15th was not ‘D’ day, because the police commanders realised that they could not act while negotiations were proceeding, and because of a radio programme in the early morning involving both unions and Mr Mokwena at which the two unions agreed to go and talk to the workers and urge them to go back to work, while Mr Mokwena said that Lonmin wanted to “use the structures of the unions to discuss any grievances or concerns in the most civilized manner without pangas and without guns. We can do it now, we can do it as soon as possible.” The two union presidents went to the mine and were briefed by SAPS that SAPS intelligence revealed that some of the strikers belonged to AMCU and others belonged to NUM.
  • Mr Mokwena was not prepared to go and address the crowd as the company’s stance was that they would only negotiate in a controlled environment and only within established bargaining structures.  He set out the company’s position to be conveyed to the strikers as “We are willing to engage our employees within the structures that are known. In a very safe environment where there are no weapons. Not on the mountain. So we are willing to meet our employees through their structures, through their leaders to discuss any issue. Not when they are armed. Not when they are actually outside Lonmin property. So when the workers are back, disarmed, tomorrow, tonight, through their leaders we will meet them. That is our position. So we are not against meeting, discussing issues with employees through their right structures. We are prepared to do that.”  It is not clear from the report through what channels this message was to be conveyed.
  • The NUM president was not able to speak to the crowd but the AMCU president did get a hearing, after one of his officials had expressed inflammatory remarks.  Mr Mathunjwa told the strikers that he had asked the employer to give them a guarantee that if the strikers went back to work it would talk to their union, namely the structures the strikers had chosen so that they could get what they wanted. He further advised the strikers that they should go back to work so that if the negotiations broke down they could approach the CCMA for arbitration so that any subsequent strike in which they might engage would be protected.  According to him, the strikers thanked him and told him they understood the message from the employer but as it was getting dark he must come back in the morning and see how they would go back to work.
  • Mr Mathunjwa debriefed with SAPS and said he did not have a specific answer as to what would happen next day but added that he believed the next day would be day of joy for everyone. NUM debriefed with SAPS and asked them to disarm the strikers on the mountain, which SAPS refused to do as it would lead to bloodshed.
  • Mr Mathunjwa requested [presumably through Mr Kwadi, the senior ER Manager] a meeting with management for 8am the following day so that he could hear from management that ‘if the workers happened to agree to return back to work, where are they supposed to report.’ Management agreed to this request.
  • 16 August – Mr Mathunjwa arrived for the meeting late, at 8.20.  He met Mr Kwadi in the foyer and reminded him that they had spoken the previous night and that he wanted to know the response of management. He also said that he would go and speak to the workers on condition that the company gave some sort of guarantee that the company would negotiate with AMCU as part of a central forum to deal with the issue of RDOs across Marikana operations. Mr Kwadi responded that he had to consult with management, and he went off, then returned and reported that management was no longer prepared to engage with the strikers as they had the two year collective agreement in place. Consequently they were not prepared to commit themselves with workers.  Mr Mathunjwa felt betrayed, as management had reneged on the commitment made the previous day. Mr Mokwena then came and gave him his cellphone as the police commander wished to speak to him urgently to go and speak to the strikers at 9am as promised.
  • He arrived to speak to the strikers at 12 noon.  The strikers again told him they wanted the employer to come and address them.  He therefore telephoned Mr Kwadi, who told him that management was not prepared to meet with him. He then tried to phone another executive manager (Mr Seedat) who told him he would try his best but he was not in control.
  • From this point, the police implemented their tactical plan, which resulted in the massacre.

The Commission’s report ends at this point.

Subsequent events

  • Lonmin then closed the mine for a period of mourning, and called for workers to return to work on 20th August. The company disassociated the violence from the industrial dispute.
  • The strike continued until 19 September, with various ultimatums being issued to the strikers before a settlement was reached between the company and both NUM and AMCU whereby RDOs were promoted a pay grade, received a drilling allowance and a small increase, totalling an increase of between 11% and 22%. The settlement excluded all contract workers (about 9 000). Talks which led to the settlement were preceded by a peace accord and facilitated by the Department of Labour and the president of the SA Council of Churches.
  • Neighbouring platinum producers closed mines and experienced unprotected strikes for the rest of the year.

Strike handling procedures

  • The report notes that detailed minutes of briefing meetings should have been kept, in terms of the company Procedure.  The evidence of the log books shows that minutes were neither detailed nor accurate.
  • The governance of policies and procedures appears to be poor, as policies were accepted as binding by officials despite not having been properly authorized.  (The Commission report notes that the Lonmin Counter Industrial Action Procedure, which was considered binding by Lonmin security officials, was testified by Mr Mokwena not to be, in fact, a fully authorized company policy.
  • The critical importance of accurate and complete incident log books was not emphasized and controlled by management.

SABPP analysis

  1. Lonmin, as conceded by management after the Marikana massacre in its 2012 Annual Report, would not easily build a relationship of trust with its employees as long as they were forced to live in squalid conditions on its doorstep. In evidence at the Commission, Mr Seedat conceded that the company had known about the critical housing problem for years. Lonmin, over the period 2004 to 2009, converted 41 hostels, thereby displacing its former inhabitants, without building replacement housing for them. Over the same period, the proportion of the migrant labour component of the workforce did not change. The impression is given that workers were not seen as people but as a commodity.
  2. Management did not adequately match the investment in employee housing to the cycles of platinum prices.  The argument that the global economic situation accounted for the failure to build houses over the period 2004 to 2009 is not supported by the more than doubling of the Rand platinum price over that period. (See Appendix 3) Management misrepresented their legal obligations and achievement against those in its Social and Labour Plan report of 2009, reducing the target for housing to 3 show houses and awarding itself a 100% rating for achievement of the target. This is highly undermining of trust and respect with their workforce and other stakeholders.
  3. Management appeared to fail to understand the legal stature of the SLP and that the company could not simply unilaterally review its obligations, which were legally binding.
  4. Management had not thoroughly debriefed themselves about the Implats situation and had not prepared contingency plans for when wage demands were raised by RDOs. The Implats precedent was a significant one – employers should negotiate reasonable wages subject to affordability, but once the Agreement is signed it must be enforced. It would appear that the Implats job evaluation system was not properly or fairly applied - changing the job grading is either an easy way out or workers were incorrectly graded all along.
  5. Management took a poor decision in refusing to involve the unions as recommended by their mine manager. This is significant – one has to engage all stakeholders when an issue like this arises. The problem here was that the structures did not seem to work for the RDOs – the group that initiated the strike and who had previously tried to talk to management. It was a worker issue – reminiscent of the 1973 Natal strikes.
  6. Having refused to involve the unions, management then acted arbitrarily and awarded a unilateral, small allowance, and told the workers that management would not deal with the matter outside the established structures. Management did not even involve NUM as the majority union. This therefore missed an opportunity, as recognition of an actor’s power leads to de-escalation of conflict – management’s actions would inevitably lead to an increase in the conflict – the union has to demonstrate its power.
  7. Management did not act on rumours of a march and wage demands by convening, as suggested by AMCU, a meeting of all the unions. Mr Mokwena even neglected to follow up with Mr Mathunjwa as promised, thereby undermining any relationship.
  8. Management did not take advantage of the opportunity presented by a peaceful march to listen to their employees and ask the marchers to elect representatives to present the memorandum and to agree the way forward. It is true that one should not deal with a mob but workers should have been asked to elect representatives to meet with management.
  9. Instead, management, speaking through security officials, cut off all avenues for communication and took a hard line, and in the process set up security officials as ‘the enemy’. Representatives did in fact emerge and could have been met with. As soon as management took a hard line, the levels of aggression escalated rapidly. Taking a confrontational approach guarantees a strike and probably violence to go with it. This sort of approach should only be taken in the last instance when all attempts at conciliation have failed and you are in a strong bargaining position. It was very confrontational in the circumstances to issue ultimatums and threaten dismissals – lessons of the 1980’s were ignored.  Dismissals change the nature of the conflict unless the employer is in a very strong position, (Lonmin wasn’t) and usually lead to violence – example BTR Sarmcol Strike in the 1980’s.  A better strategy would have been to isolate the strikers and then just wait. (The Commission notes that the first ‘game changer’ was the decision by the strikers on 10 August to enforce their strike by violence and intimidation – this is just after management had taken this hard line.) 
  10. Management’s decision to speak only through the security officials did not take advantage of an opportunity for a known face of management to speak to the representatives and also to ensure that management’s feedback was correctly conveyed to the crowd.  At a late stage, management also refused to speak directly to the strikers and allowed Mr Mathunjwa to convey messages on their behalf (even while refusing to allow AMCU into bargaining structures). At various times, the police were also conveying messages from management. Inconsistency in leadership is a major flaw.
  11. It appears that at no stage was one senior company representative designated to deal with communication to the strikers and the unions. A strike action plan should have determined who did what during the strike, including who was responsible for communication.  Various HR, ER and other managers appear in the narrative at various points, leaving it unclear as to who was in charge.  This exacerbated the communication problems with the strikers, who kept asking for ‘the employer’ to come and speak to them. 
  12. Management’s attitude to AMCU appears to have been inconsistent, sometimes refusing to allow AMCU ‘a seat at the table’ and at other times begging Mr Mathunjwa to intervene to stop the violence and inviting him to meetings. Recognition of an actor’s power leads to a decrease in power deployment – a basic principle of working with power relations. 
  13. Management did not sufficiently evaluate the risk of violence to workers who reported for work and thus issued ultimatums which posed a severe risk to workers should they comply.  Management also appears to have condoned, if not encouraged, NUM officials to encourage and enable their members to go to work despite threats of violence against them. Management did not close the mine to protect non-striking workers and to enable security to be concentrated on protecting essential service workers.  It seems that at this stage they were believing their own propaganda – that the conflict was rooted in inter-union rivalry. It is not management’s role to take sides in inter-union conflict – rather focus on winning the hearts and minds of the workforce – a strategy which works. 
  14. As the report notes, Lonmin did not use the intelligence available, did not properly formulate plans for dealing with the strikers, did not ensure that there were adequate security resources at its disposal and did not properly brief security staff. This all points to the lack of a proper strike contingency plan.
  15. Management decided to characterize the strike and the violence as inter-union rivalry rather than as a wage demand and rejection by workers of union representation. It is apparent that Mr Mokwena reached this conclusion with insufficient evidence. Mr Mokwena also behaved unprofessionally in making statements which he later had to withdraw as being incorrect.
  16. Management did not behave consistently and keep promises made on 15th August, when management publicly committed themselves, through Mr Mokwena, to meet with union structures once the strikes were back at work, but yet on 16th August, management refused to meet on the grounds that the 2 year agreement was in place. This constitutes a breach of trust.
  17. There is no mention in the evidence that management in general, and the two ER/HC executives in particular, showed concern that the strikers were employees who should be treated as employees.  The stance seemed to have been that they were ‘faceless’ and deserved no consideration. 
  18. Management did not have an effective strike contingency plan.
  19. The Commission found that Lonmin did not collude with SAPS in a toxic manner and confirmed that the involvement of the police when acts of violence against people and property are occurring during a strike is entirely appropriate.
  20. The company’s internal investigation after the event identified the following contributory factors:

             a. Inadequate intelligence network;

             b. Lack of consideration of risk associated with supplier and contractor equipment services

             c. Ineffective contingency plan for this type of situation;

             d. Absence of a system to ensure that training requirements are managed so that employees and                                           contractors are competent to meet the risks applicable to their responsibilities;

             e. Lack of awareness by employees to provide correct information about incidents;

             f. Lack of management commitment to safeguard employees from industrial action related violence.

      21. Management’s role in and reaction to the events, demonstrated a lack of leadership behaviour which                            lives the stated values of Lonmin, which are:

            a. “ Zero harm – we are committed to zero harm to people and the environment

            b. Integrity, honesty and trust – we are committed, ethical people who do what we say we will do.

            c. Transparency – open honest communication and free sharing of information.

            d. Respect for each other, embracing our diversity enriched by openness, sharing, trust, teamwork                                          and involvement.

            e. High performance – stretching our individual and team capabilities to achieve innovative and                                              superior outcomes.

Employee self-worth – to enhance the quality of life for our employees and their families and promote self-esteem.”


From an SABPP point of view this tragedy could have happened to a lot of South African businesses where there is very poor HR management and a lack of values-based leadership. Management and ERM training is too often only done to get BBB-EE points or so as to claim skills development levies instead of with the aim of creating a business climate whereby employees are treated consistently, fairly and with respect. Employers too often look for short cuts – trying to train complex subjects such as ERM in too short a time, with the result that such training creates conscious incompetence and supervisors shy away from their responsibilities because they see these as too difficult and complicated. Ultimately this leads to militancy and industrial unrest.

The tragic events at Marikana hold many lessons for employers and HR/ER practitioners.  The objectives of the SABPP ERM Standard show the way forward.

  • To create a climate of trust, cooperation and stability within an organisation.
  • To achieve a harmonious and productive working environment which enables the organisation to compete effectively in its market place.
  • To provide a framework for conflict resolution.
  • To provide a framework for collective bargaining where relevant.
  • To ensure capacity building and compliance to relevant labour legislation, codes of good practice (ILO and Department of Labour) and international standards.

As described by veteran ER specialist Adrian du Plessis in August 2012, the roots of mine violence lie deep in the structure of large, hierarchical, labour-intensive operations in cyclical industries and which traditionally rely on migrant labour.  When rival unions emerge, these tensions are worsened. To deal with these issues, systemic interventions at various levels are needed, including a deep understanding of the dynamics involved; fundamental reforms designed together with social partners; aligning ER systems to the changing character of employment, work and reward; and the establishment of an integrative stakeholder structure.

The Farlam Commission dealt more concretely with events within a short time frame of August 2012. Some of the main lessons to be learned from the way this particular industrial dispute was managed include:

  1. Management must at all times give honest information about its financial circumstances and ensure that employees understand the information;
  2. Commitments made in any plan or agreement must be adhered to or stakeholders must be involved in any proposed changes to those commitments;
  3. Information on any change in the employment relations climate, which may occur from many different causes, should be gathered and carefully evaluated. New stakeholders should be involved sooner rather than later in a dispute.
  4. External circumstances can impact on internal employment relations processes, therefore the employer must continually scan and evaluate the external environment;
  5. Paying attention to the conditions under which employees live and giving them a stake, means that they are less likely to pay attention to radical elements from inside or outside;
  6. When collective bargaining structures are in place, employers may not take unilateral action on wages or conditions of employment;
  7. Employers should not take sides in inter-union disputes, even where one union is recognised and the other is not;
  8. Employers should ensure that there is a fully developed strike contingency plan including the nomination of a credible management representative that can present a consistent face, known to workers, and who is seen as  being able to take decisions;
  9. Although the current climate of violence in strikes is to be deplored, employers must recognise it and ensure that non-striking workers are protected and not placed in danger.

Footnote: In an interview in August 2015 for the GIBS Acumen publication, the CEO of Lonmin since August 2013, Ben Magara, told how he spent his first 100 days on the job just listening to employees anywhere and everywhere. He has also started a leadership change whereby managers have re-assumed their people management responsibilities. “It all starts with people and it all starts with conversations. This may sound obvious but these can be very painful and very trying if battle lines have already been drawn. And, frankly, miners would prefer to view spreadsheets and operate machinery than deal with what have been traditionally viewed as soft issues. This, after all, is why we abdicated our responsibility to engage with our employees to the unions in the first place – and the legacy of that practice continues to haunt us… Managers and supervisors are now driving direct engagements with employees, and the early wins from unleashing the Lonmin human potential are pleasing.”

16 August 2017 (updating the version of September 2015)

This Commentary was prepared by Marius Meyer, CEO of the SABPP and Dr Penny Abbott, Head of Research of the SABPP.  Thanks to Bruno Bruniquel of Bruniquel Associates, and Dr Angela du Plessis for reviewing and commenting on the paper. SABPP would also like to acknowledge the excellent work done by the Farlam Commission in investigating the Marikana massacre and for producing such a comprehensive report.  The SABPP analysis serves as a guide for HR Managers and Line Managers, as well as Employment Relations Academics and students.

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