The long platinum mining strike of 2014 has many health, safety and corporate culture consequences, writes Mabila Mathebula.
Some of the miners who tried to return to work failed their medical examination due to improper diet. Some people turn to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, illicit sex with a high risk of HIV and AIDS.
More HIV infections could further cripple business, the state, and labour organisations for years after the mining strike.
Damaging criticism has been levelled at the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCO), Joseph Mathunjwa, for factionalising labour.
The Sunday Independent pointed out the South African Gini Co-efficient, an index that measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of income, as one of the underlying causes of industrial unrest.
Several international security and enterprise risk assessment and corporate governance indices also take income disparaty as one of the indicators of stability and general prosperity.
Organisational mistakes and consequences
In his book on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey notes the differences between a mistake and a consequence. He eloquently argues that a mistake is a wrong that one is incapable to right.
A consequence is something that one could do nothing about. It is spilled milk. The long strike at the platinum belt, including the traumatic of the Marikana disaster (see earlier posts and analyses on Sheqafrica.com) when several miners were killed by the police in early spring two years ago, will have tremendous consequences on the health of the miners and on mining safety culture, which is already struggling to claw its way towards the distant world standard.
Several consequences are inevitable:
• health disorders
• emotional exhaustion
• sleep problems
• deteriorating relationships
• lack of trust
• lack of team spirit
• startup hitches.
• erosion of health and safety ethics and programmes.
Long after the mining houses and the unions have settled the mining strike dispute, these consequences will remain active. The motto of ‘zero harm’ rings hollow after the invasion of zama-zama illegal miners into old shafts, the export of illicit gold to Europe, and the Marikana disaster.
The warring parties would have to manage a range of unintended consequences back at work.
The workplace has turned into a perilous tower. The unions have forgotten the African proverbs; Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle. And; When elephants fight, the grass suffers.
The mining strike demonstrates that our society lacks wisdom, integrity, communication and compact. We are prone to crises.
Problems become opportunities when the right people join forces, but where are the right people?
The tug of war between management and between labour unions is causing untold misery to the entire mining community.
As stress levels rise, intimidation and murder become commonplace. This is brotherly war, or brodertwis out of proportion to the initial problem and limiting future options.
Mental health is the key to health
A mental health survey in the United Kingdom, found that one to five workers had become physically ill from stress during their careers.
Unmanageable pressure had caused 1 to 4 to cry at work. The platinum belt probably has more inherent and induced stresses than the United Kingdom. Some workers are killed slowly by stress while some leaders dither and seek their own benefit.
Stress is part of life
A recent issue of Awake identified these causes of stress:
• Insecurity, financial or otherwise
• demanding routines
• interpersonal conflicts
• traumatic experience.’
The striking workers are exposed to all of the above causes of stress. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can either be functional or dysfunctional: “Stress is to the human being condition what tension is to violin string: too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the strings snaps.
“Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life.” The platinum strike is too much, like a hidden time bomb, it could explode into sinister effects.
Stress releases hormones to raise breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Reserves of blood cells and glucose flood into the bloodstream. This cascade of reactions prepares us to deal with the stressor, but it remains unseen, or other suffering parties are demonised.
Chronic stress is a killer. Everyone in the platinum belt is perpetually revved up and increasingly desperate.
The National Institutes of Health in the USA advised that people who are stressed to;
• eating a balanced and regular diet
• get enough sleep
• limit caffeine and alcohol
• avoid nicotine and street drugs.
We need more comprehensive responses. I disagree with Frantz Fanon that peasants alone are revolutionary. He opines that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The starving miners have now mortgaged their health with the view of earning a living wage, but HIV and some other diseases are irreversible. Workers have their health and safety to lose, and only a few coins to gain.
Gary Allen Sledge once warned that: “It is difficult to know what counts in the world. Most of us count, honour and money… at mid-life, I am beginning to see that the things that really matter take place not in the boardrooms, but in the kitchens of the world.”
• Mabila Mathebula is a senior researcher at the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) of South Africa and former Sheq consultant. He writes in his private capacity.
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