Marikana: a story about unresponsive leadership
There is an incredibly basic but crucial leadership lesson to be learnt from the Marikana disaster. It is this: unresponsive leadership will not be tolerated forever. The Congress of South African Trade Unions released a statement “urg(ing) all the workers who have left the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to return”.
This “urge” is fascinating. The union leaders view these workers as delinquents; as naughty children who ran away from home and who should return if they know what’s good for them.
Even last night on my radio show, Talk At Nine, general secretary of NUM, Frans Baleni, ...view middle of the document...
They have lost faith in the union leadership. Why else would you not allow the regular processes to play out? When I put this issue to Baleni on my radio show yesterday, he simply said that workers opted out of the usual processes because they – the workers at Marikana – have been inspired by the successful use of illegal strikes at other mines previously.
This retort from Baleni is disingenuous in two ways. Firstly, as was pointed out by a mineworker who called in, the mineworkers did not resort to illegal activity from the outset. If Baleni’s hypothesis is true, then illegal activity would have been chosen from the start. It wasn’t. Rather, workers started losing confidence when the normal processes did not bring about the desired outcomes for them. This means it is hasty pop psychologising on NUM’s part to simply dismiss the workers as engaging in copycat anti-social behaviour. It is a desperate attempt to avoid introspecting about the quality of union leadership at Marikana.
And that is the second problem with Baleni’s retort. It is a lost opportunity to reflect on what NUM could have done differently from a leadership viewpoint. If you do not think you failed, then you will never reflect on what leadership lessons to learn from a crisis. And the stubbornness on Baleni’s part to even think of the possibility that NUM’s leadership was found wanting, is itself reason to predict that the relationship between workers and union leadership, going forward, will remain tense.
We want responsive leadership