“There are some attempts to respond to the social needs [of workers], but I think a lot still needs to be done. We are still grappling with the best practices in terms of engaging with communities,” Tshikululu social investments executive of corporate affairs Mpadi Makgalo told CNBC Africa.
“We have a lot of discussion which really does not talk to the pertinent issues on the ground. There’s been progress but more can be done.”
In 2012, strikes and violence in South Africa’s mines put pressure on the government to boost social spending in its thee-year budget plan.
Today, mine worker wages are at the forefront of the dispute between worker and mine house, with a number of labour unions clashing and striking against companies for poor wages.
“I think there’s always going to be that tension, and I think where we sit, as an organisation that looks at how you do well for the whole community, our focus is more on actually looking at the communities. When you have healthy communities, [they] can work better. Our focus is mainly on communities themselves but you can’t really divorce one from the other,” Makgalo explained.
The mining and labour system in South Africa has over the years been designed in a way that a number of miners dwell far from their places of work, an important geographical disconnect that is oftentimes a burden and an expense.
“Given our history and where we are, it is pertinent [to create] a home that is not far away, and you’re able to be with your family. We’re talking about family and social breakdowns [as a result of it]. It’s something that some mining houses have been looking at, but it’s not at an aggressive state that it should be,” said Makgalo.
Mining companies also face the challenge of how much spending should be allocated towards social spending, and satiating both worker and company executives is not always possible.
“We are quick to read on what the development problems are, and want to apply our solutions. There needs to be more consultation, understanding of communities and also long-term strategy. We are past the ‘feel good’ investment,” added Makgalo.
Strategic engagements and partnerships could be a solution to the many grievances that social spending can solve, as opposed to the common philanthropic approach to assistance that mining houses usually take.
“We always argue that government is always going to be the custodian of development, and how you then align yourself with government proprieties so that you actually come up with a solution that is strategic, that can be measurable and that is also sustainable,” said Makgalo.