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Women fight for inclusion in BEE model

The empowerment of women in the mining sector is espoused by legislation. The Mining Charter, which outlines broad-based socioeconomic empowerment targets for the South African mining industry, states that stakeholders should aspire to a baseline of 10% women participation by 2009.

This is, however, an aspirational and equivocal objective. For the most part, women are excluded from the benefits of black economic empowerment (BEE) in the South African mining industry, the world’s largest producer of gold and platinum.

However, manganese mining company Kalagadi Manganese executive chairperson Daphne Mashile-Nkosi and women empowerment organisation South African Women in Mining Association (Sawima) CEO Simangele Mngomezulu are exceptions to the rule. These intrepid women speak to Mining Weekly about the challenges of advancing themselves in a historically white, male-dominated industry.

“When women enter an industry they don’t go in as individuals, but as groups and communities. Therefore, it perpetuates what we always knew: if you empower a woman, you empower the nation,” says Mashile-Nkosi.

She began her career in the mining industry in the late 1990s when she noticed the dearth of women in this sector. As a women’s rights activist, Mashile-Nkosi had established the Women’s Development Bank and served as national coordinator of the National Movement for Rural Women. She saw her involvement in mining as an “extension of being a community worker, rather than just business. Community workers empower everyone else, not just themselves.”

Mashile-Nkosi has remained committed to her “lift-as-you-rise” philosophy, which has seen the inclusion of women in the mining industry. Kalagadi Manganese is a black women-owned and controlled company established in 2001. Kalahari Resources, which Mashile-Nkosi also chairs, owns 40% of Kalagadi Manganese.

It has more women shareholders than any other South African mining company. “Whenever I enter into a contract and a company comes to present, I ask where are the women?” says Mashile-Nkosi. “If you don’t bring women, you can’t work with me.”

Kalagadi Manganese embarked on Africa’s first major greenfield manganese project in 30 years when it became a 50% equity partner in a R4,2-billion venture with steel giant ArcelorMittal South Africa. When the project is completed, Mashile-Nkosi will be the first South African woman to build a mine, a sinter plant and a smelter. “I want to be a good role model so that other women will follow. I am in a powerful position to ensure that women are brought on board.”

“BEE is about women,” says Mashile-Nkosi. This is because women emphasise sustainability. They consider their children and their grandchildren. “Until women are incorporated into the mining industry, the impact will not be felt in our communities and we will not be able to deal with issues of poverty. We will end up building our nations on social grants,” comments Mashile-Nkosi. “Women are naturally broad based in their approach, which is why they have such a critical role to play in the BEE model. They assist in the distribution of wealth to those who would never have had the opportunity to participate.”

Women add value to mining because they make “the best managers” and are multi-skilled, says Mashile-Nkosi. They also possess humanity, which means that they emphasise safety and wellness issues. “For women, it is about the preservation of life before profit.”

Mashile-Nkosi believes that BEE presents an ideal opportunity to incorporate women into the mining space. However, BEE has not been synonymous with women empowerment. “We have good policies, but we don’t have monitoring tools to ensure that BEE happens.”

“It is easy for men to look at empowerment and see themselves and not women,” she comments. “You go into a board meeting and it is a board meeting full of men who don’t believe in you. We not only have to fight for inclusion and recognition, but we have to do better than men. If they do 100%, we have to give 200% or 300%. We still have to undo what men think about women before we can be seen as serious stakeholders.”

Although Mashile-Nkosi has been active in the mining industry for some time, she has never been included in a trade mission or invited to present a paper at the Mining Indaba. This hinders access to investors and to valuable networking opportunities.

She feels her success within the BEE framework has been “driven by entrepreneurship,” which means seeing opportunity where others see risk. She had raised R12,5-million before the Industrial Development Corporation injected R60-million into the manganese project. “If you risk your own money, people begin to take you seriously,” she says.

This transaction was therefore self-sustainable. It placed Kalagadi Manganese in “a position of strength” that would not be shaken by downturns in the market.

Mashile-Nkosi has seen returns on her “long-term” investment through patience, tenacity and commitment. She mentions the epidemic of serial prospecting rights sellers who acquire a prospective mining right and “sell it the next morning.” Through endurance, Kalagadi Manganese has established an outstanding track record.

“I have operated from a view that I am not entitled to anything. If I want something, I have to work hard for it,” comments Mashile-Nkosi on the issue of BEE. She cites a saying in Zulu that means, “a frog has to jump for itself.”

Meanwhile, Mngomezulu comments that “the advancement of women in mining has been very slow. When people look at us as women, they see us as employees. People are trying to reach the target just to employ women. I want to see mines truly owned by women.”

Mngomezulu worked in the library at global mining giant Anglo American. In 1999, she was recruited by former Minister of Minerals and Energy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to assist in the development of Sawima. “Mlambo-Ngcuka believed that the women she had identified were hands-on in terms of mining. We weren’t really in mining.” Mngomezulu notes that, while women may be employed in the mining space, it is often at nominal levels.

Sawima is an organisation aimed at promoting female empowerment in the mining sector in accordance with the provisions of the Mining Charter. It assists informal mining groups to obtain mineral rights and run mining operations through training and skill development initiatives.

Mngomezulu says that the scarcity of women in mining has been due to a lack of knowledge, the industry’s association with danger and a traditional belief propagated by many that “if you are stupid, you work at the mines.”

As the non executive director of coal and mineral sands company Exxaro, Mngomezulu says that other than the company secretary, she is the only prominent woman in the organisation. She is also a member of the advisory board to the Minister of Minerals and Energy, where she and empowerment mining company Mmakau Mining CEO Bridgette Radebe, are the only female representatives.

“Men run all by themselves without actually remembering that they need to bring in their women counterparts,” she says.

Mngomezulu is also the MD of black women-owned-and-controlled Nesa mining, which conducts sweeping underground and the reclamation of redundant material in old mining areas. She cites Mashile-Nkosi as an individual who has successfully “pushed for black empowerment and for women.”

Source: Mining Weekly, 10 April 2009