Lonmin: We Are Great

The Radio Ad That Digs to Mislead

Barnard Mokwena: The Lonmin Executive who confessed to have fed the cops with lies about the striking workers.

In Brief

How many mining houses have you heard or seen paying for ads other than for staff recruitments? Lonmin would like us to praise their good hearts. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. The self-praises are just too convinient. But we aren't buying it.

“We’ve been through the storm! We’ve been through the fire! All thirty-six thousand of us; employees of Lonmin. So last year alone we invested R54 million in uplifting the community, R30 million on local economic development, R18 million on education, over R5.1 million on healthcare. Lonmin, we dig to build this country.”

When I first heard this radio commercial, my head began to spin. I wondered if I was still on this planet or I had been teleported to the early twentieth century by a secret time machine. Early in that century Lonmin was still just a mining division of Lonrho then known as London And Rhodesia Mining And Land Company. Of course this could have nothing to do with the ‘Rhodes Must Fall Campaign’ of the 21st century.

Besides the double conjunction, ‘And’, in the name of the company, something else isn’t adding up for me.

Why would Lonmin suddenly find it urgent to blow its own trumpet? The answers, in my opinion, lay in what the company didn’t include in the very expensive radio commercial.

Missing from the ad are the millions of rands the company used to scatter negotiation attempts by miners who were subsequently shot down… Or that in the last two years, the company had only given the families of the murdered miners food parcels worth R1,700 and the same amount in cash… Or the millions paid in chartering choppers during the massacre… Or the additional millions spent on a high-powered legal team to defend its acts (either of omission or commission) at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.

Walk the talk: Singing our own praises isn't such a great idea, especially when the motives appear so clear.

And by the way, what do they really mean by ‘uplifting the community’ and ‘local economic development’?

While the missings from the ad seem endless, its flighting sucks – at least in my opinion. I first heard the ad the day after an electronic copy of the Commission’s report was supposedly delivered to President Jacob Zuma.

Did Lonmin intend to soften blows the report might contain by reminding the public of how great they have been? Well the only thing they appeared to get right, albeit half-right, is the last line in the ad; ‘Lonmin, we dig to build this country’.

The 36,000 employees of the company have faced very different ‘fires’ and ‘storms’. We know, for example, many of the workers are lowly paid and unable to make ends meet. Maybe the ad should read: “As Lonmin management, we are sorry for our role in the murders of our workers.” But we know they would never say that.

Why would they be sorry for killings that were carried out by the police? It wasn’t them, going by the filings by Lonmin’s lawyers at the Commission.

Speaking through their legal team, Lonmin introduced its 167-paged argument by redirecting blame; “On 16 August 2012 at Marikana in the North West Province, a tragedy unfolded when the SAPS killed 34 persons, most of whom were striking Lonmin employees.” Most of whom were striking Lonmin employees. This legalese simply reinforces the company’s stance that the people who were at the mountain were some faceless non-employees of Lonmin. The 34 persons had names. And unlike us, Lonmin knows more about them - their identity numbers, their tax reference numbers, their UIF numbers, their next of kin, their medical histories, their last leave days… everything.

"YOU SHALL NEVER STARVE" - Despite promises to provide for the families of the murdered miners, in two years, Lonmin only spent a total of R3,400 per family...

Lawyers and legalese aside, Barnard Olefile Mokwena, the company’s former Executive Vice-President of human capital and external affairs (now holding a higher position) conceded to fabricating facts when he talked to Lieutenant General Zuiswa Mbombo of North West Province.

In an underhand scheme, Mokwena lied to the police general about AMCU and the striking miners; “You will notice their press statements. [AMCU only released a single press statement in that week] So they are throwing stuff into the media to say ‘oh we’ve asked management to give everybody 12,000’. Now the media are going to say ‘but management then you must talk to AMCU’.”

Having been one of the only Lonmin’s Senior Executives based in Marikana, Mokwena could have single-handedly pressured the local police to help break the strike. He provided unproven and speculative information to the police, yet he hasn’t been charged with misinformation. In fact nobody has been charged for the deaths of the miners.