Indaba Day 4: A Superstar Speaks

7 mins. to read
Indaba Day 4: A Superstar Speaks
Graca Machel and Anthony Hodge

By Mark Nunn of

The fourth and last day of Mining Indaba 2015 was the dedicated Sustainable Mining Day. It’s always the last day, isn’t it? But still: Auditorium 2, a sizeable enough space, was packed – far busier than it’d been at any point throughout the week. Perhaps it was the money men excited and inspired, ready to change their ways and address an industry variously described throughout the week as broken, slumping, moribund, cautiously desperate; or perhaps it was the star power of Graca Machel, referred to often as Mama Machel.

If it was the latter, it was worth it. After a solid enough intro from Indaba Head Jonathan Moore describing sustainable development as “a cornerstone of the mining industry,” MC duties were passed on to ICMM president Anthony Hodge, who was to prove himself a truly excellent moderator—and a pretty smooth operator all round, in fact. More of which later.

Mrs Machel took the stage immediately, sitting side by side with Hodge in an armchair in a configuration that Mines and Money always refer to rather oddly as a “fireside chat,”, and we were up and running with no time wasted. She was a hugely energetic and engaging speaker, always interesting and amusing, often leaving Hodge looking rather like he’d been hit by a benevolent train.

Hodge started out by comparing the transformation currently taking place in mining to the 1994 release from prison of Nelson Mandela—Mrs Machel’s husband. One striking point is that both he and Machel had also spoken at Alternative Indaba this week—a parallel, rights-focussed civil society conference of which, sadly, many in Indaba aren’t even aware.

The talk was Machel’s, with Hodge asking only the questions.

How can mining be a “development engine” sensitive to host communities and nations?

“In 2015, we’re all going to adopt new sustainable development goals to last the next 15 years; I’m dreaming of an Africa where people aren’t going to bed hungry. The current situation is not sustainable: and the people who are hungry today, are also angry. They know that if they’re excluded and starving, something’s wrong; they know there’s enough food to feed them.”

She then outlined the future she imagines: one where all can live with dignity, with everything that implies in terms of development. This future isn’t a dream: rather, it’s a commitment. And mining can play a great part in achieving it, once the industry stops seeing itself in isolation.

How can this happen? The framing concept is this: when mining starts, governments agree to entrust part of a national endowment to a company that’ll develop it. That company brings technology, capital and expertise, and works together with government to transform a national endowment into wealth.

But there are other actors: you need a labour force, too; and you need the communities. And currently, these communities are forced to accept pretty raw deals—to alienate part of their heritage, and move out.

These four stakeholder groups—government, mines, workers and communities—need a better understanding and pact than they have currently; to date, “there hasn’t been a genuine effort to build trust & confidence amongst them.”

This is the root of sustainability: a trust and a pact between all four, lasting from the beginning, through the end of the life of the mine, and beyond.

What’s lacking now?

This discussion isn’t happening. To “break” business as usual, the first step is to take into account, really examine and quantify, the interests of all four stakeholders. To do this, a broader context is required; one that isn’t limited to profit and immediate growth, but rather one that talks about sustained growth, something lasting beyond our lifetimes.

How can this can actually be done—how do we conceptualise communities?

Hodge prefaces this question with the optimistic assessment that: “it’s evident there’s a thirst in the industry to understand, so they can be more effective.”

The community consists of men, women, youth, children, the elderly—all with different specific interests. The first step is to understand that “communities” are in reality groups within which there is diversity. To help industries do this, someone in host country must facilitate the development of common leadership, “comprising different leaderships within communities—traditional leaders, religious & economic leaders, women’s and children’s representatives,” and others. All these parties must work together as a genuinely representative joint leadership, and capacity must be built within this group so it’s informed and able to lead. Then, and only then, it must converse with mines and central and local governments.

For its own part, the mining business must change to be ready for it.

We know business can produce growth—but it hasn’t proved development, sustainability or equity. Our response must be to change the way we organise, talk and plan. It’s a big job, but “my view is: let’s start somewhere.” We are newcomers to industry, so we can learn; but as newcomers, we can also establish new ways in which things can be done.

How can we attract more women into mining?

A deliberate plan, with goals and deadlines. Women need access to leadership level, too: they can bring a different style of working. To retain them, companies must also be flexible: women’s family responsibilities must be acknowledged and accepted.

The goal is broader than just that, though: women must also be investors, and owners. We’re wasting huge potential with the exclusion of women from responsibility. No nation can be successful without women’s full participation.

What can be done? Develop capacity, and collaborate with women’s organisations to identify “the best of us with whom you can work.”

What does it mean for CEOs to work in such a way as to “leave no-one behind”?

Characterise society more broadly. Look beyond the immediate mining space and local communities. Think of countries as a whole. If there’s a skills gap, have a long term plan and use the mining company to build the necessary skills in the country: evolve a cadre of specialised, qualified people to build the industry, and aim to build in-country expertise far beyond the company’s immediate, specific needs. Again: this is NOT business as usual.

Machel also stressed a theme that had been surfacing gradually throughout the week: mines may not be able to manage all this on their own; but they can—indeed must—collaborate together to achieve it. In this, community funds are of crucial importance. She also contended, with some vigour, that despite widespread fine words, very few companies are currently taking environmental issues seriously.

With all of these initiatives, we need to define clearly who, among the stakeholders identified at the start, does precisely what; next year at Indaba, we will have failed if we’re still hearing the same stories of mutual mistrust. In advance of 2016 Mining Indaba, civil society [poorly represented at this year’s meeting, in our editorial opinion] must prepare thoroughly in advance, target what to say and to whom, and adopt smarter, more strategic organisation. Prepare for debates; identify concrete issues beforehand; choose partners; and begin the conversation. Next year, then, we can settle down for Mining Indaba to hear the lessons. Then—year after year—we’ll see movement.

Hodge then opened the floor to a very brief Q&A.

“It’s not just business as usual— it’s paradigms as usual, politics as usual, vested industries as usual… what can we do?”

It’s better and more productive to review this question at a local constituency level. Then it’s manageable: identify structures that need transformation to achieve a healthy industry and hit the issues one by one at local level. There is no macro answer; we need to review what problems have been inherited, decide what to transform, and chip away.

“Many mines in South Africa spend freely on promotional items, yet communities lack water, sanitation, want for basic needs; girls miss school for want of menstrual sanitation products. You approach mines as a woman, but they expect you to be in cleaning or catering; I am a South African metal fabricator trained in Germany, but I can’t get a shot at mines’ business. How can we change all this?”

Persist, insist, keep pushing until you get a chance.

As the session came to a close, Hodge added a final point: “Insisting is part of leadership too. We all have to play that role at some point.”

Finally, proving himself not only the busiest an at Indaba (on practically every panel we attended this week!) but also probably the smoothest, Dr Hodge presented Mrs Machel with a ceremonial parting gift: seven agates he picked up on a beach near his home in Canada as a child, and later polished himself. Seven of them, to represent the spirits of the North, the South, the East and the west; the spirits above, below & within.

We left this session doubly inspired by two truly excellent speakers. One of the best of the week by a long shot.


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