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VINCENT RASEROKA | Vuka uzenzele spirit can nourish mining sector’s soul

File photo.
File photo.
Image: 123RF/Martin Bergsma

We often speak of the importance of vuka uzenzele in African business and working with employees, the community, and local governments. Though the concept may seem simple on the surface, translating to “wake up and do it for yourself”, it goes deeper and touches the core of what it is to be African.

It reflects the spirit of self-reliance, empowerment and diversity. However, outside companies rarely understand what that means to the average African worker, and how it applies to their work, responsibilities toothers and, importantly, to health and safety in the workplace.

By relating training and operations to this concept, this age-old wisdom acts as an essential tool for mining companies and their engineering partners to reach employees and ingrain a culture that prioritises health and safety. This leverages the potential of vuka uzenzele to institute and encourage a zero-death, zero-incident approach to daily work.

It encourages a culture of working smarter and taking responsibility for one’s own safety and the safety of others. As with any company culture, it starts with management, makes its way through every level of the company, and ultimately improves the client’s culture as well.

Many African mining companies now expect engineering, procurement and construction management contractors to embody the spirit of vuka uzenzele as much as they emphasise environmental and social responsibility. Implementing an all-inclusive, multifaceted set of safety protocols and training workers to adhere to these regulations is crucial.

However, it by no means guarantees that they will consistently practise safe behaviours. Vuka uzenzele is at the root of many African cultures. It is a concept that our staff grew up with and, because of this, it is ideal for conveying complex health  principles.

Employees also tend to understand and internalise information better when this information is combined with indigenous knowledge. The result is not just a set of standards that the workforce must memorise, but a deeply embedded, company wide culture of healthy living and safe working. It promotes overall healthy lifestyles and behaviours, such as eating well, exercising regularly, avoiding substance abuse, getting vaccinated, and seeking medical help when needed.

It means being aware of the risks and symptoms of diseases such as Covid-19, HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, and malaria, and taking preventive measures to protect oneself and others. This leads to a healthier and more productive workforce.

Contractors that understand and integrate indigenous African knowledge and conventions such as vuka uzenzele into their operational best practices are better equipped to meet the unique needs and requirements of African mining companies. Companies have a fiduciary and a civic duty to balance profitability and productivity with social responsibility, ensuring that we generate income for the business and its stakeholders while ensuring the prosperity of our employees and surrounding communities.

■ Raseroka is chairman of Erudite

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