THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
Interview with Anglo American Deputy Chairperson, Norman Mbazima
Q: What do you regard as key to the company’s resilience, particularly in light of the recent commodity and financial crisis?
NM: From the company’s establishment in 1917, throughout World War I, to diamond trading during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the 2008 financial crisis and the recent commodity downturn, we’ve often had to make tough choices and persevere in the face of enormous change around us. Resilience is the single quality that has held us in good stead. All resilient companies have one characteristic in common and that’s a relentless focus on innovation, matched with a firm commitment to sustainability while investing with the future in mind, even during tough times. Recently, with the commodity downturn, I think it’s the hard work and relentlessness of our employees and solid leadership that helped us survive these headwinds. But our resilience is not only about how we’ve preserved as a business, but also how we have managed to contribute to solving some of the country’s most intractable problems during challenging times. If I had to think of a defining moment in history, which illustrates how we’ve built our past as a reputable and resilient company, I would single out our HIV/AIDS programme. We were the first miners to launch treatment schemes and one of the first major employers to offer free anti-retroviral treatment to our employees and their families.
Q: In 1954, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer articulated Anglo American’s long-term vision: “To make profits for our shareholders in such a way as to make a real and lasting contribution to the community in which we operate.” How has Anglo American’s community involvement evolved over the years?
NM: Our commitment to our communities is evidenced by the Chairman’s Fund, the first professional managed corporate social investment (CSI) fund in South Africa. Since its founding in the late 1950s – later transformed by Harry Oppenheimer into a dedicated department in 1974 – the Chairman’s Fund applies the resources at its disposal to solve the most urgent social needs across the length and breadth of South Africa. Notable contributions include providing funds for the establishment of the Mangosuthu University of Technology, the Teacher Training College in Soweto, Uthongathi School in KwaZulu-Natal and All Saints College in Eastern Cape. Through the Chairman’s Fund, we also supported the construction of the first major home for disabled black children in South Africa. Our contribution in the three focus areas – health, education and sustainable community development – goes beyond monetary value. We partner with our beneficiaries to consistently monitor the progress of individual projects, while drawing lessons for future interventions. We’re also active contributors to the development of our local mine communities through the Social and Labour Plans (SLPs) framework and in 2015, we expended R891-million on community-development programmes across health, education, supplier and enterprise development and housing.