Other (9)

Adventures in Local Content

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 12:45

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 28 March 2016:

As a community development specialist working with the extractive industry in developing countries, I am very pro-“local content” and often force my clients to include sourcing from local companies as a non-negotiable site or company policy.  Thus, when I needed some golf shirts for a commemorative event in Ghana, I knocked on the door of local suppliers, in particular one who produced shirts for a fundraising event in February 2015.  For that event, he produced the shirts successfully but a nail-biting mere six hours before we needed to distribute them, blaming “dum-sor” (frequent disruptions in electricity supply in Accra) for the delay.  We understood the problems that caused the delay in production, and therefore asked him this year (which has far less electricity interruptions than last year) to please provide us with a quote and a design for the shirts.  After two weeks, he returned with an outrageous quote, but wanting to do the right thing and source locally, we asked for a design to be sent to us ASAP.  One week passed and another and we were fast running out of time, so I decided that we could not possibly wait for him to get back to us.  (And as I am writing this two days before the event, we still have not received the designs....) Considering that there were less than 10 days available for production of the shirts, and these 10 days included the long Easter weekend, he would never be able to produce the shirts on time.  What to do?

Well, the main sponsor for our nature conservation project is a South African company.  Certainly it is still acceptable “local content” if I procure the shirts in South Africa?  Yes, I argued, the lesser of two evils – the main evil being production of shirts on another continent….  The t-shirt company in SA is fast, within a few minutes I receive a quote (half of the price quoted in Ghana), a design and a promise of it all being ready within a day or so.  My heart sang.  All is under control.  Local content is the winner here.

In South Africa, I go to collect the shirts.  As I pick them up to inspect them, I notice to my utter horror that these shirts were made in China…. “China?!” I shriek at the owner, “Why not South African made?”  “Sorry, we don’t source from South Africa.  But at least the embroidery was done here.”  Small mercies that we are grateful for one day before the Easter weekend starts and there is no time to do anything about it, but to learn two valuable lessons for the future:

1) Always check where any product is produced despite where it is actually purchased;

2) Give local companies at least one month lead time to produce quotes and designs and another month or two for production.

The worst of it all: I was expecting cotton shirts, instead I got polyester….

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This article was first published on LinkedIn on 29 February 2016:

I read with interest the article published on Friday, 26th February 2016, by Miningmx.com, referring to the Implats CEO, Terance Goodlace’s, take on the link between safety in South African mines and the risk-taking psyche of the average South African.  He further links it to a “growing social disobedience” which, according to him had “weakened our collective social values and our safety compliance system”.   While I agree with Mr Goodlace that South Africans are risk takers, who as a nation frequently puts safety on the back burner or even more frequently, remove it completely off the stove, I do not agree that this phenomenon is a recent event. 

I am reminded of the Head of Safety and Sustainable Development at the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, Dr Sizwe Phakathi’s, 2012 paper that deals with the culture of planisa in mines, titled:   “Getting on and getting by underground. Gold miners’ informal working practice of making a plan (planisa)”

Although Dr Phakathi’s paper deals only with gold mines, I consider it to be the norm in most mines, irrespective of the product mined.  Planisa is a Fanakalo word, which refers to “making a plan”, particularly when deep down in the mine.  Fanakalo is (was?) the lingua franca based on English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu, used in South Africa, particularly in the mines.  (I wonder if it still is the lingua franca in the mines because in recent years some South African mining companies have banned the use of Fanakalo on site.)  Planisa implores minors to tackle the day-to-day problems underground with skills and ingenuity to unblock the bottlenecks that prevent production targets from being reached.  According to Dr Phakathi, and as it is also clearly portrayed in Greg Marinovich’s “Murder at Small Koppie.  The real story of the Marikana Massacre”, workers learn (and are also required to do so for their own survival) to “read” and anticipate changing conditions in the immediate geological environment in order to work safely while at the same time responding to production demands.  The conditions underground, plus whatever organisational constraints and inefficiencies that might exist, force the underground workers to improvise and planisain order to meet production targets.

I quote directly from Dr Phakathi’s paper in which he states (and he in turn refers to studies as old as 1954):  “In the context of underground mining operations, especially in the area of worker safety, complying with formal rules and regulations is not always adequate. The ability of miners to detect and predict dangers on the basis of their beliefs, normative prescriptions and tacit knowledge, highlights not only the limitations but also the existence of official safety rules side-by-side with unofficial safety rules in the underground mining workplace”.   Dr Phakathi further lists a number of factors that compel miners to planisa, which include mechanical breakdowns, production pressure, production bonuses and the imposition of standards.  By making a plan, miners insure that production delays are avoided, production bonuses can be earned, and if there isn’t an accident (fatal or otherwise), they earn the praise of their shift-bosses and mine captains. 

Although I agree with Mr Goodlace’s comment about the recklessness that pervades South African society, I would say it is nothing new, and has been encouraged for many decades, also in mines.  In order to really address safety in mines, we would need to take everything into account, most of all entrenched human behaviour, which will not disappear with the implementation of standards, whether safety or any other, not while the rest of the conditions in the mines remain the same.  And until the rest of the conditions change, workers will continue to planisa and fatal accidents will continue to happen.

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