Security and social risk management flaws in Marikana mining massacre

Enquiries into the Lonmin Marikana mine massacre have a tough job. Mining business, labour and politicians have a larger task of redressing root causes of labour insecurity, inadequate security management, implementing recommendations, and leading industry to new norms.

Collective belligerence, as in the Lonmin Marikana platinum mine retrenchments and strike saga, required tripartite leaders to agree on, and demonstrate an ‘emergent norm’.

Our leaders now have to invent new economic norms to deal with an emergent socio-economic situation.

Business, labour and government seem to be struggling to formulate new norms, yet it was presaged in many service protests, land jumps, camp gangster incidents, land claims that benefit a few, and mining empowerment with odd results, like the Orkney and Grootvlei debacles.

Zero job security

Mining should apply its safety management zeal, like its highly driven ‘zero harm’ motto, to security management and social compact management.

Over accentuation of safety management, over security management, is now proven detrimental. It is a morbid thought to consider whether the Marikana massacre deaths should be considered ‘occupational’ or not.

All the impacts and costs of occupational fatalities are here; funerals, compensation, retraining, lost production, lost reputation, investigation, frantic energy to prevent recurrence of one symptom, while root causes are instinctively identified as being too large and too expensive to redress by one mine, one industry, even one country.

History would judge South African sheq practice harshly if we did not galvanise into action to balance the skewed equation. Safety and security management should complement one another.

I have community of view with Abraham Maslow that security is the most immediate human need. Employers must acknowledge, asses and manage basic needs, or secondary, higher and longer term needs like health, HIV prevention and hearing protection could not become part of our behaviour or values.

Security management recommendations

Employers should study and strategise to manage protest behaviour, and develop appropriate measures of crowd communication, management, and co-operation with outside agencies.

Security plans should transcend access control and work sites, to include measuring and managing root causes and expressions of unrest.

Security strategies should align with corporate social investment (CSI), human resources (HR) and life skills training strategies.

From us in sheq, security managers could add some detail to their risk assessment and rating toolbox, and some zeal to their emergency planning.

Employers and managers could no longer turn a blind eye to the multiple results of social and macro-economic processes that produce millions of low skilled, poorly motivated and often desperate workers, inviting opportunistic politicians and warlords to ferment petty revolutions and run their political ‘practice drills’ during strikes and wage negotiations.

Social and industrial security failures

Major incidents that punctuate economic, social and industrial tragedies leave indelible imprints on people’s minds. Remember these names that echo with contention down to our time; Xhosa wars, Zulu wars, Difaqane, Mzilikazi raids, Bhambhata rebellion, Pedi rebellion, SA War, German holocaust, Cape Colony raid by Gen Gerrit Maritz in 1902, the attempted Jameson raid on Johannesburg, white communist strike and Fordsburg massacre of 1920s, South West Africa (Namibia) massacre, Rwandan genocide, Sharpeville massacre, Boipatong massacre, Bisho massacre, Marikana mine massacre.

One of the dilemmas in analysing human tragedy, in the hope of preventing more loss, is that commentators have to articulate a plethora of diverse perspectives and directly opposing views of events, and of what security, economy and development means.

The Lonmin platinum mining tragedy at Marikana near Rustenburg will remain a burning issue in South African industrial and political history for decades to come. This event manifests a litany of years of clashing interests, polarising perspectives, escalating differences, and loss of common ground, reducing our national and industrial reputation.

Tripartite leadership failure

A myriad of perspectives to this regrettable tragedy include developers versus land owners, trustees versus tribal leaders, labour against labour, desperate retrenchees against a system, faction against faction, and finally, armed police against semi armed, desperate and aggressive intimidators, some intent on re-adjusting their internal order.

Some analysts point out structural problems, skewed union representation, unrealistic expectations by workers, abject failure of leadership in business, and organised labour and government.

Other commentators see economic and industrial violence as part and parcel of more frequent and more severe cutbacks due to global cycles, even the start of a long decline in local mining, and another round of African exploitation in less developed countries north of our borders, where some local mining investors have already gone.

Many people are losing a livelihood and representation, while business and the state are losing foreign investment, and politicians fear losing support. A cycle of decline and social unrest could set a pattern of self sacrifice, versus militarising state authority.

SHEQ culture must look without and within

We have to discuss the impacts on, and the role of safety, health, environment quality (sheq) and corporate culture, in our particular South African experience of global economic boom and bust impacts.

We now have a worldwide spotlight on one incident, symptomatic of decades of widespread social ills in mining, wider industry, Africa, and the world.

We could not ignore the Marikana and related mining emergencies. We could not continue measuring silica exposures, training colleagues, preventing spillages, developing corporate culture and implementing social programmes  on the usual scale, while industrial, national and global business culture is impacting on personal values and behaviour at the most basic human level.

SHEQ practice is prone to economic, security, cultural and leadership issues. Security, the foundation of human values, is being eroded below our feet.

I agree with Franz Fanon that “crisis is an opportunity riding in dangerous wind”. People shy away from crisis, rationalise causes, and fail to identify and use opportunity during crises.

The Lonmin Marikana mine tragedy compels our security and management colleagues, and us in sheq, to cross a Rubicon.

We have to offer our methods and models, and continue to demonstrate our values. We could take a leaf from business management practice, where management is shown to be only half the function of management, the other half being leadership.

Management gurus such as Tom Peters and Peter Drucker have consistently argued that ‘organisations are over-managed and under-led’.

From the Marikana mine massacre, we could conclude that safety practice is over-managed and under-led, while security practice is under-managed and even less led.

Compared to sophisticated economic management training and tools, African sheq management still seems rather basic, but security management seems primitive, neglected and one dimensional, preparing and answering hazards and risks with one blunt instrument, being bullets, as if it violence were a ‘message’ for supposed simple citizens.

Safety and security remain different disciplines

We could also discuss qualitative differences between safety management and security management. The two concepts are not synonymous, despite the two portfolios on some operations being given to one department, even to the same employees.

Industrial security is a Cinderella discipline, often reduced to mere presence of uniformed people at gates. When security people call in backup, the proverbial cavalry, their communication, relay, responses, and the outcomes, are usually primitive and uncertain.

Every death and injury incident must give us pause for thought about our roles in corporate culture. Did we plan our emergency response measures well enough? Did we drill them through? Do we have communication means and standards?

Did we sell sheq values to leaders? Do we have a recognised chain of command? Do we know the capacities, capabilities and drills of outside agencies? Do they know our site, hazards and risks? Yet we must never enter the arena of wages or politics.

In a blog on last year (Schools must manage security, health and safety), I differentiate between security and safety; “Safety is an internally organisational driven process. Security involves collaborating with external agencies like law enforcement agencies to protect teachers, workers and learners from outside influences”.

Safe, but not secure

When our safety measures fail, as in trapped underground mine workers, intervention by external agencies is of overpowering importance also to us.

The Lonmin Marikana mine labour massacre demonstrates that a mine may be relatively safe, but insecure against massive social forces unleashed by chains of injustice, division, and lack of leadership.

We could surmise that some mines may be more secure, with more robust social compacts and cultures, but less safe. These are cultural questions depending on all stakeholders, led by the ethics and will of its owners, investors, board, management, sheq people, workers and community.

Good social security is good business. The Lonmin massacre could become a case study of how security risks, rooted in social and political conditions and events, pose greater risk of fatal incidents and business decline than operational safety, if not well managed.

Railway strike IR case study

To use sheq terminology, security poses high enterprise risks and operational risks that require ongoing assessment, management, contingency planning and collaboration with social agencies.

The 1987 railway strike, where a number of employees were killed while the rail system and part of the economy were held to ransom, is already an industrial relations (IR) fatality case study.

Unions regularly pontificate about safety values and criticise managements after workplace fatalities, but at Lonmin Marikana, mine management, organised industry, organised labour, rival unions, individual workers, state, government and police have collectively failed to manage workplace security, allowing an IR disaster to unfold.

As usual in incident investigations, fixing and spreading blame is no cure, nor a recipe for preventing recurrence. Ultimately human need and greed accepts high levels of risk and harm, in return for gains in profit or power, usually incurring losses to the least empowered people in society.

In South Africa, the least empowered have always been Khoe San Bushman people. Their ranks are now swelled by migrant workers, economic refugees from elsewhere in Africa, and jobless local people.

Our social compact could be measured by the level of their access to the economy.

Security, like health and safety, is broad in scope. Its roots and values transcend workplace, home and city. Revolutions do not solve much, as history teaches from Europe, England, Cuba, Asia, Africa, South Africa and the Arab Spring.

‘Revolution’ is usually confined to the top. Leadership and new norms, which we seek, and lack in security and social management, is also required nationally and globally, even in the supposed first world.

For our part, in sheq management, the Marikana mine tragedy reminds us that security and social management are essential building blocks for fulfilling higher causes like health, quality of life, personal fulfilment and a culture of brothers’ keepers.

• Mabila Malthebula is a senior researcher at the SA Railway Safety Regulator (RSR). Her writes on in his personal capacity, independent of any sheq authority.

One thought on “Security and social risk management flaws in Marikana mining massacre

  1. The Marikana tragedy was a tripartite failure by Lonmin management, the labour union, and government, all failing to prevent a massacre that could have been prevented. I feel that it is vital that the approach used by the tripartite ‘alliance’ should walk their talk, so that when it comes to negotiations that there are no unrealistic expectations on either side.
    I believe that the tripartite should learn from what happened at Marikana and other incidences that you mention. I am asking myself, was there any risk assessed before the tabling of the wage offers. Probably not.
    Safety is not a magic wand, it is about applying the mind properly.
    It is a lesson to other companies, unions, and government teams. Before any action is taken, risks must be anticipated and mitigation strategies followed. Confrontation raises risk on all sides.

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