The total remuneration of R300 million paid by Sibanye Stillwater to its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Neal Froneman, has sparked outrage and lamentations from different sections of our society, especially in the context of a 3 months wage strike by mine workers at Sibanye Stillwater.
This annual payment to Mr Froneman is a typical indicator of why the wage gap between workers and directors is so wide, and inequalities high in this country and the world over. In the World Bank report on inequalities in Southern Africa published in March this year, a relatively old reality was reaffirmed that the tiny 10% of the population owns about 80% of the country’s wealth.
Considering that lowest paid workers at Sibanye Stillwater in its South African operations earn about R10 478 pm (R125 736 per annum) according to NUMSA (R16 000 according to BusinessDay), it would take this low paid worker 222 years to earn the basic annual remuneration of R28 million that Froneman earned in 2021, and a staggering 2 385 years to earn that total remuneration of R300 million.
Though the outrage is well placed, it limits those outraged to not see beyond the moralism such an outrage is based on. For instance, some sentiments counterpose the R300 million total remuneration to Froneman with the R1000 annual increase demanded by mineworkers who are on strike at Sibanye, and proceed to use management’s refusal to accede to this demand as a demonstration of how “sick”, “ridiculous”, “arrogant” and “disrespectful” Froneman and management at Sibanye are.
Well-meaning the sentiments may be, and indicative of a repulsion by something sensuously wrong, the diagnosis is misplaced. In the context of capitalism, Sibanye is not wrong to pay a total remuneration of whatever figure to its directors, no matter how outrageous that may seem in our feeble morality. This is precisely because the intent and purpose of capitalism is to produce commodities through which profits will be extracted.
Now, after extracting their profits, it is up to the owners of such enterprises what to do with them or how to disburse them: invest in business, hoard it and/or give themselves fat pay-outs annually such the R300 million to Froneman. That is the iron logic of capitalism, because capitalists enter into business to make one thing, and one thing only: profits.
In drawing this analysis, Marxism enables us to cast off the veil of idealistic moralism that often blinds us into thinking that the current political-economic system has an obligation towards the mass of workers and the unemployed. It enables us to understand capitalism for what it is a system predicated on the pursuit profits. It has no obligation towards workers and the unemployed, toddlers and the frail, and ultimately towards the wellbeing of society. And that is the reason why it produces inequalities never seen before in human history, mass poverty and chronic multifaceted violence.
Upon this analytical discovery that Marxism enables to discover, conclusions cannot be reformist. They must inevitably be revolutionary. In other words, whether you are interested in revolutionary conclusions or not is not the matter, but the revolutionary conclusions are interested in you.
Even Trade Unions, which are said to be reformist in nature, cannot avoid this indisputable fact about capitalism, and the inevitable revolutionary conclusions it must draw. Hence our founding congress resolved the defining character of the federation to be socialist orientation simply on the basis of such revolutionary conclusions: profits are woven into the DNA of capitalism, and capitalism does not care about the wellbeing of workers.
From this understanding, it is clear why greatest heads in the historical epoch of capitalism made far reaching conclusions that capitalism must be replaced if humanity must march into an epoch that emphasise societal wellbeing, and protects the environment.
In the absence of a socialist transformation of society, we will be stuck with the Fronemans of this world, whose accumulation of wealth perpetuates hunger and starvation for the rest of the world’s population and instigate wars that result in displacements and killing of masses of people.
Froneman’s R300 billion 2021 annual remuneration is a reminder that capitalism is not obligated to workers, it will never be, and that workers must organise to replace it. Let’s not moralise about it, let’s organise and resist towards working class power and socialism.