The Marikana massacre, in which 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead by police on August 16 2012, was a tragic and historic event. A judicial commission of inquiry set up to investigate how it came about put much of the blame on the police.
It was also critical of the mining company, Lonmin. In particular, the commission highlighted the company's failure to live up to its promise to build 5500 houses for workers. It only built three houses.
This created a situation, according to the commission, in which "large numbers of Lonmin workers live in squalid informal settlements. creating an environment conducive to the creation of tension, labour unrest, [and] disunity among its employees or other harmful conduct".
But how was it possible for Lonmin to renege on its promise to build 5500 houses? After all, this was a formal commitment made in terms of the Mining Charter of 2002 and thus legally binding.
Based on growing scholarly literature on corporate irresponsibility, some might see this as yet another example of "a corporate bad guy". Others might point to the "systemic" nature of corporate irresponsibility, in which a broader array of actors are also implicated.
Having collected data on mining companies in this area since 2001, I suspected that additional, processual factors were at play. So I studied how interactions between business and government created the underlying conditions that gave rise to the massacre. I paid particular attention to two key aspects of governance.
These were the establishment and enforcement of commonly binding rules, and the provision of public goods and services.
I found that interactions between business and government progressively dissipated the adopted and enacted social responsibilities of both parties. The term I used to describe the process is "dynamic deresponsibilisation".
The process started with the government committing to negotiate rules with companies. This was premised on assumed shared interests, as well as fears of an investment strike. But the negotiation process resulted in vague and ambiguous rules.
As the government negotiator highlighted: "You don't want to straitjacket anybody, so there is flexibility in the implementation of the framework."
The companies accepted this. In fact, mining companies sought to outdo each other in acting, and being seen, as public development agents.
What's more, local government consciously absconded from areas which were expected to be supported by the mining companies. Together, the ambiguity of the negotiated rules and the absence of local governement provided an excuse for Lonmin to renege on its housing commitment.
The overarching outcome was that neither the government nor Lonmin lived up to their statutory or public commitments. They failed to provide public goods to communities around the mine. This contributed to the squalor of Marikana and other settlements in the area, which in turn fed the grievances of striking mineworkers.
My argument does not suggest that participation by companies in negotiated rule-making and the contribution of public goods is necessarily harmful.
But two things need to happen to make this work. First, there must be clear and enforceable rules and companies must be monitored to ensure that they deliver on promised contributions. Second, government can't retreat. Companies should insist that their contributions to public goods and services do not displace, but are in support of, government and other state organs as the primary governance agents.
- Hamann is a professor at the University of Cape Town