Anglo American Thermal Coal South Africa CEO July Ndlovu warned delegates at the 2018 Coalsafe conference that the industry had to deal with community uprisings, or “risk facing another Marikana”.
During his keynote address at the April 19 event, Ndlovu noted that, in the three months preceding the conference, five of his employees had been threatened by community members while on their way to work. He also cited increased stoppages throughout the local mining industry as a result of “organised, well-resourced community protests”.
He told delegates that “communities no longer accept that we will mine and they will benefit”, adding that the levels of frustration experienced by communities suffering from poverty and joblessness are growing.
Ndlovu believes that this frustration has resulted in the “new phenomenon” of increasing and seemingly instinctive violence by mining-affected communities and suggested that the disenfranchised public is something the industry is ill equipped to deal with.
However, he stressed that the industry had to come to grips with the growing dissent as “it’s our employees whose lives are being threatened”. He suggested that the companies consider the uprisings a “new hazard” and that companies, as with cases pertaining to more traditional mining hazards, collaborate and come up with solutions to address the problem.
“We need to ask ourselves how we ensure that the communities truly feel that they are better off.”
Ndlovu noted that the regulator did not offer much assistance, because of the inherently fragmented nature of social labour plans, which resulted in multiple mining companies providing the same types of community upliftment initiatives, and subsequently neglecting other ways. “We end up with different mining companies building multiple schools for the same small community,” he stated.
Ndlovu challenged delegates to become active citizens, and to actively look at ways of improving the trust deficit between communities and mining companies. “We have some of the best minds in the world present today . . . the citizens of this country do not expect us to follow – they expect us to lead, and to find solutions to the most intractable problems facing society. Therefore, do not be surprised when they show up at our mines . . . where else can they go?”
Heeding the Signs
In keeping with his message of heeding warnings, Ndlovu noted that his company’s own operations could be examined as a microcosm of the coal sector’s regression in safety performance during 2017. He stressed that the three fatalities that occurred at two Anglo American Thermal Coal operations could have been avoided had the company heeded the signs.
At the start of 2017, the Coal South Africa operations experienced 22 months without a fatality. By August 2017, the company lost three, workers in the space of four months.
Ndlovu noted that, in the year ending December 2016, there were 24 high- potential incidents. He stated that only eight of the incidents were avoided as a result of a conscious decision by the workers or management. “That means that in 16 [of these] we were merely lucky . . . we missed the signs.”
Ndlovu also pointed out that every single incident was one in which basic safety procedures or protocols had been neglected or ignored. “There was nothing new in any of these cases.”
Further, he stressed that the incidents that occurred in the 2016/17 period were incidents that had also occurred in the previous ten years.
Ndlovu warned against complacency, stressing that safety “cannot be left to chance”.
He suggested that supervisors, managers and executives listen to employees, that companies actively invest in ensuring that supervisors are equipped to react in a manner that saves lives, and that everyone remain vigilant.
“The Zambian proverb [says]: if you want to be safe, it’s like sweeping water upstream; the moment you stop, you’ll be swept away.”