Due to various black empowerment-related legislation,
regulations and policies that are regularly revised, it is frequent practice at
Solidarity to participate in negotiation processes where the focus is on
white-black issues. During the recent
negotiations regarding the Mining Charter, it was mainly about black
negotiators from the government and other trade unions who wanted to bargain
for as many benefits as possible for black South Africans, and on the other
side Solidarity tried to limit the impact thereof on white employees.
The reality of the Mining Charter’s aim was made very
clear when Solidarity was interrupted by a member of the IFP member during a
presentation to the parliamentary portfolio committee for mineral sources, in
which the trade union addressed all the pillars (sub-sections) of the charter.
The IFP MP argued that we must understand each other very well about black
empowerment, which means the empowerment of Africans in general, and especially
black (“African”) women and that “we should not waste each other’s time with
small talk out of this context”. In the
end the honesty of the politician promoted a constructive debate because the
focus then shifted to the real agenda.
The chairperson who led the charter negotiations,
however, made a different statement and emphasised that the charter
negotiations were in no way an anti-white process. Gwede Mantashe, the Minister
of Mineral Resources confirmed this, but added that black empowerment in the
mining sector is all about placing the ownership of mines in the hands of
blacks with the accompanying creation of wealth for blacks on condition that
black beneficiaries must work for their share, otherwise it would not be
This kind of negotiations is a delicate balance
exercise, namely to state a point of view without creating any estrangement; to
talk with authority even if the bargaining power in terms of numbers are small;
to not fall into the trap of stereotyping; to not overpower, but to actively
take part; to acknowledge your “opponent’s” valid arguments without showing any
weakness on your side; and to also protect the market economy principles among
all the race and ideological issues.
Generic theories on negotiation do not provide for the
racial sensitivities and bias which form such an integral part of this type of
negotiations, and therefore the negotiations must be approached in a well-planned
way and there should be a culture of learning from your own and from others’
Solidarity’s instruction to its negotiators for the
mining charter negotiations was to, among others, restore white women’s status
as “previously disadvantaged” as part of the definition after it was removed
from the charter; to see to it that white employees are included in any form of
employee share scheme; and that employment targets must be realistic and that
it should be phased in over a longer period than the government’s proposed
period of one year.
The following 10-point plan was compiled to serve as a
guideline for the negotiations:
1. Count to 10 if you are provoked and do not
fall into the trap to react to populistic rhetoric. Keep your end goal in sight
and do not let your focus shift.
2. Be self-assertive, but instead of raising your
voice, raise your argument (derived from a quote by Desmond Tutu). Support your
arguments with credible research and factual argument and strengthen your
points of view with examples the way it will be in practice and emphasise the
benefits for all parties.
3. Use humour but avoid any jokes or platitudes
with a race connotation – your sense of humour may offend another person.
4. Refer to the gaps and the contradictions in
the counterparty’s arguments in a non-derogatory manner and without taking a superior
stance when saying something.
5. Acknowledge events from the past which led to
people being disadvantaged but do it sincerely (Unnatural sympathy is just as
harmful as a racist remark and will be treated with contempt).
6. Make constructive contributions when issues
outside of your focus area are discussed to counter any accusations of a
narrow-minded approach, but also to condition your co-negotiators to listen to
7. Do not accuse someone of racial biasness if
you are biased regarding racial issues.
8. Expect people or parties to go back on their
word and be careful to not overreact. A strong reaction will just incite the
point of view and can have a further negative impact on other critical issues.
9. To enhance your credibility as a negotiator
and to create political space, demonstrate an understanding for certain claims
and needs of the counterparties and support it as far as possible without
jeopardising your own case.
Build relationships outside the formal negotiations, for example to socially
connect with especially “radical opponents” during a tea or lunch break.
Discuss matters like place of birth or heritage. This was a tip from a black
trade union leader and it works well.
With the abovementioned aspects and the Bible’s
guidelines on “love your neighbour like yourself”, we entered the mine field.
The most difficult part was not to shout “hear-hear” when a valid point on
racial issues was made, such as when the task team chairperson commented that
“when we, as black people in this room, start listening to ourselves, we will
realise that we made transformation a white problem”. In context, it meant that
transformation was implemented as a counterpart for “whiteness” and not the
empowerment of black people.
Then there was a tongue-biting exercise when the
activist state advocate responsible for writing the charter commented that the
national demographics must serve as empowerment guideline for senior
appointments. He argued, for instance, that while Indians make up only 1,9 % of
the country’s population, they hold 4% of the top posts and subsequently, when
Indian appointments exceed 1,9%, everything above the threshold must not be
regarded as empowerment. A sneering remark was added, namely “that Indians
above the threshold holds just as little empowerment value as white men”. The
first reaction was to react immediately, but if you “put her in her place”, you
win the round, but will probably lose the last round. Solidarity waited for a
person who was politically better placed to react. In the end it was the
chairperson who expressed his disgruntlement regarding the remark. In reaction,
Solidarity expressed its discomfort, but immediately shifted to a clinical
discussion on the constitutional potholes regarding the application of the
national demographics and how it would merely complicate staff recruitment and
appointments when a company rejects a good coloured or Indian candidate based
on a computer calculation.
Furthermore, to create political space and to obtain
support for Solidarity’s focus areas, Solidarity supported the Mineral Board
(the former Chamber of Mines) to scratch or revise the clause which determined
that mining companies must pay an annual dividend of 1% of their turnover to
their black empowerment partners. The argument was that the additional cost
will be recovered from the workers to their detriment by decreasing salary
raises, or worse, retrenchments. Secondly, the government was supported
regarding their proposal for an increased contribution to a training fund and
training targets set for employers. Thirdly, cooperation with trade unions were
provided regarding their stance on housing for mine workers.
The final charter has been published and all
Solidarity’s demands were met, plus a later demand that workers must be given
representation on boards, similar to the German model of co-determination.
These types of negotiations are challenging and each
time (tongue in cheek), it feels that we must leave our laptops and cell phones
as “weapons” at the board room’s entrance and feel trapped on the “battle
field” while fighting for survival. All this while the wilting mining industry
fights for survival and retrenchments are at the order of the day.
du Plessis is the General Secretary of Solidarity