‘There’s no hierarchy’ – Implats CEO on why Zimbabwean mines are more efficiently managed than South Africa’s

Zimbabwe platinum unki
Unki mine: PGM prices under pressure

One of the major contributors to the efficiency of the Zimbabwe platinum mines was the “very different dynamic between employer and employee” on those mines compared with South African operations.

That’s according to Impala Platinum CEO, Nico Muller, who was taking part in a discussion with Anglo American Platinum CEO, Natascha Viljoen, at the Joburg Indaba mining conference on October 7.

Both Implats and Anglo operate mines in Zimbabwe which, despite major economic and social problems, routinely outperform their respective South African operations.

Impala is 87% owner of Zimplats, Zimbabwe’s biggest mining operation.

Amplats operates the Unki mine, which was one of only two operations owned by the group where production was 100% restored as of end-June following Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Anglo’s Viljoen commented in September at the Joburg Indaba PGM conference that: “I very often wish I could bottle what they have (in Zimbabwe) and distribute it across the company. The quality of work and efficiency is absolutely extraordinary”.

Zimplats is “our most stable operation”, Muller says. The work culture there, he explains, is different to that of SA mines.

“There’s a much lower hierarchical structure in the relationship between the CEO and management of Zimplats down to employee level,” says Muller.

“There’s also a much clearer sense of purpose and accountability and also of consequence if things go wrong. In Zimbabwe people are very proud to be associated with a company that is doing well and they are proud of their jobs.”

[CLICK: Zimplats revenue up 38% to US$870m, but miner withholds dividend over COVID-19 uncertainty]

Muller said that the nature of the platinum orebody in Zimbabwe and the degree of mechanisation were “helpful”, but he added: “Even if you look at that, they are (still) very good the way they operate.

“So there are a number of factors including the facts that Zimbabwe is a well-educated nation and the Zimbabweans work on a very different ethos and understanding.”