Bridging deep gender divide in SA’s mining sector


Nkwe Platinum and its Chinese-based parent company, Zijin Mining Group have been playing leading roles in empowering South African women in the mining industry

Africa Editor
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) HAD she conformed to stereotypes and succumbed to pressure against her pursuing a passion in mining, Adv. Vuyokazi Nontso would not have been a history maker and trailblazer she is today.

“I was told it’s an industry where women are not allowed,” she recalled in an interview with CAJ News Africa, east of Johannesburg.

Driven by passion, perseverance and divine inspiration, some two decades later, she is an industry icon.

A qualified Mining Engineer, with 21 years of experience in the South African mining industry, in 2002, Nontso became the first black woman in the country to obtain a Mine Managers’ Certificate of Competency (Coal) before attaining her Mine Managers’ Certificate of Competency for Metalliferous Mines in 2011.

She is one of only a handful of mining professionals in South Africa who holds both certificates.

Nontso became the second woman to graduate in mining in the then Wits Technikon.

While she is proud of her achievements, she decried, “Over 20 years later, women still struggle to be recognised.”

However, she believes South Africa is making progress in reversing the disparities, through the Mining Charter.

“I have been fortunate to have participated in the last report assessing that,” Nontso said.

“For me personally, it is fulfilling to be part of history,” the mining doyen, who also is legal expert (LLB graduate), said.

Nontso is the Risk and Compliance Manager at Nkwe Platinum South Africa (Pty) Ltd, the latest entrant in the sector.

While more women are participating more actively in South Africa’s mining sector than more than a decade ago, the fact that females constitute around 14 percent of employees in the sector indicates that the gender divide in the sector remains too wide.

Local mining industry employs over 400 000 South Africans.

The under-representation of women in an industry that is among the biggest employer in the country reflects broader social inequalities.

Amid the industry remaining a male-dominated domain, the relegation of women to support roles also means in terms of remuneration, on average, females also play second fiddle to their male counterparts.

It is against the backdrop of this that some companies in the sector have committed to partnering the government in addressing these disparities by equipping women with skills that have been dominated by men.

These initiatives coincide with Women’s Month (August), where again concern has ensued over the exclusion of women from industries and sectors believed to be under the purview of the males.

Mining and related industries have been at the centre of the debate.

The Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities believes it is imperative that job opportunities in male-dominated sectors be created to attract, retain, develop and promote women.

Shalen Gajadhar, departmental Director of Communications, said opening new sectors to women allowed for more employment opportunities, changing the circumstances women find themselves in.

“One such sector is mining,” he stated.

“Mines operate close to towns with the potential to provide opportunities to thousands of women who otherwise are confined to lives of poverty,” Gajadhar said.

Nkwe Platinum, a subsidiary of China’s Zijin Mining Group operating the Garatau mine in Burgersfort, Limpopo, has spent some R18 million in upgrading of the Garatau community access road.

It has allocated more than R14 million worth of Rands projects that include the empowerment and upskilling of women.

“Through such initiatives, we are empowering communities where we operate,” Nkwe Platinum Finance Manager, Shudufhadzo Siphugu, said.

The company has in recent days partnered a Johannesburg-based company to train women from some communities in the Burgersfort area in Limpopo province on the operation of excavators, a key tool in mining operations.

“Mining remains a very masculine industry but through this training, we can see that women are equally capable. Females are relegated to support roles. We need to break that stigma,” Siphugu said.

“I have been accorded the same respect as would be accorded to a male,” she said in an interview with CAJ News Africa.

Nkwe Platinum and the Zijin Mining Group believe the inclusion of women in the mining sector contributes significantly to communities’ sustainable development and long-term economic growth.

“We recognise the potential that women can unlock for successful mining operations and understand that their skills development forms a vital foundation for a more productive community,” said Zhiyu Fan, Nkwe Platinum Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer.

The company and Sany Southern Africa have structured a programme to provide women from the former’s mining communities entry-level excavator training.

“The women have done much better than I anticipated,” said Samuel Zhang, General Manager of Sany Southern Africa.

“We decided to provide a new machine to make their learning environment safe and efficient. On average, training in industry is on average one teacher per ten trainees but we had two training six,” Zhang enthused.

In a sector where less than 20 percent of top management, senior management and skilled professionals are made up of women, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities has welcomed all efforts by mining companies to attract women into the sector.

“The department encourages the mining sector to showcase similar programmes aimed at empowering women,” Gajadhar said.

– CAJ News






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