Africa’s diversity and rich cultural heritage is reflected in its mining industry, resulting in a unique operational environment that many internationally based companies often find difficult to understand and operate in effectively. Misinterpreting how mine workers think, feel and process information can be critical in sustaining a safe and healthy working environment.
We often speak of the importance of vuka uzenzele in African business and working with employees, the community and local governments. Although the concept may seem simple on the surface, translating to ‘wake up and do it for yourself’, it goes much deeper and touches the core of what it is to be African.
The term reflects the spirit of self-reliance, empowerment and diversity. However, outside companies rarely understand exactly what that means to the average African worker, and how it applies to their work, responsibilities to others 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.
Erudite leverages the immense 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 & construction management (EPCM) contractors to embody the spirit of vuka uzenzele as much as they emphasise environmental and social responsibility. Consequently, this places African-born EPCMs at a considerable advantage.
Benefiting from ingrained cultural knowledge
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. 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 they will consistently practise safe behaviours.
Vuka uzenzele is at the root of many African cultures. It’s a concept that our staff grew up with and, because of this, it is ideal for conveying complex health and safety principles. Employees also tend to understand and internalise information better when this information is combined with established 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.
Vuka uzenzele is not limited to the workplace. 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 healthy mindset leads to a healthier and more productive workforce.
EPCMs 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, local employees and subcontractors, regional regulators and surrounding communities that are impacted by the mining activities.
In business, companies have both a fiduciary and a civic duty to balance profitability and productivity with social responsibility, ensuring we generate income for the business and its stakeholders while ensuring the prosperity of our employees and surrounding communities. Vuka uzenzele encapsulates these responsibilities and can establish African companies for long-term prosperity.