Conversations about Gold
This is Gold is about bringing the industry to life. In this section we feature Conversations about Gold – which highlights key discussions about the industry, People of Gold – which introduces some of the most vibrant and interesting people in the industry, and Places of Gold – which shows the mines that keep the industry going.
- Published on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 15:20
Deep level underground mining is a difficult and physically demanding industry, which due to various historical legal and cultural reasons has traditionally consisted of a largely male workforce. In fact, before 1990, women were legally prevented from being employed in underground mining activities reflection of the broader social inequality in South Africa. Today, these legal obstacles no longer exist and gold mining companies actively encourage women to participate in the industry. In fact, the South African Mining Charter has set a 10% quota for women in core mining jobs by the end of this year. And AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye are all set to meet or exceed that target.
It’s not only history though that has held women back – it’s also because mining is often physically arduous, that convention and folklore have meant that women have steered clear of underground work, and even because women are under-represented in the engineering and technical disciplines at school and university. That said, women are starting to make waves in mining, and responsible mining employers are there to support them.
We spoke to women in mining, who represent some of the new People of Gold.
People of Gold: Mpho Makoaba leads by example to improve the health of those around her
Mpho Makoaba began working for Harmony 15 years ago as a professional nurse. Through hard work and believing in her future, she is now Harmony’s Health Hub Unit manager, and has changed the lives of those around her for the better. Her story serves as inspiration for both women and men working in the mining industry.
“I started working at Harmony’s Health Hub in early 2013, and found one of the greatest health challenges to be the high rate of obesity amongst the patients I was treating, which is often accompanied by diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. I witnessed many of my colleagues unable to complete their work, or being placed in positions on the surface, when they wanted to work underground. This made me think about how important it is to be healthy and strong. Almost immediately, I began counseling women who came to see me about getting healthy, and even referred them to nutritionists, but nothing seemed to help. And, as I was conscious of my responsibility to my employer, I had to stick to the code of practice, which clearly states the required fitness level and weight when working underground. And, in the interest of safety, these codes are important to stick to. I made the decision then and there: though I was working on the surface, I decided to start working on own health, with the hope that this may motivate those around me to do the same.”
As the months went by and her health improved, Mpho’s strength and energy also began to increase, inspiring her to carry on. In no time, women in the clinic joined her in her journey and the results were visible. Today, most women at the clinic are confident discussing their health problems with her and are really working hard to maintain healthy and strong bodies.
Mpho’s project has been so successful that other employees have taken notice of the results, and are starting to adopt healthy habits for themselves and for their families. On a personal level, she is driven by the sense of personal achievement she gets from her work at Harmony’s Health Hub – more so than her academic achievements and other areas in her life. “Being able to interact with people from all walks of life, and helping Harmony employees improve and maintain their health through education, providing treatment, counseling and advice on how to prevent diseases. Mentoring those who work for me, and passing on my knowledge inspires me,” says Mpho.
As a final word of encouragement to those employed in the mining industry, Mpho has this to say: “Women in the industry must start taking responsibility for themselves and for their future. Just imagine the negative impact not taking responsibility for your actions could have on your team. By being responsible and accountable, health comes naturally, it becomes your way of life. Empower yourselves, strive for the best, study, and take all the available opportunities to better yourselves, stay connected, know what is happening in the industry and how to improve your lives. Stay healthy, stay safe, be strong, be focused and victory is yours.”
People of Gold: The Chamber of Mines celebrates SA mining’s most inspirational women
The Chamber of Mines recently featured the stories of a few of South African mining’s most inspirational women on their website. Read about how Lerato Molebatsi, Executive President for communications and public affairs for Lonmin; Audrey Noma Claire, Superintendent at Sibanye Gold, and Marian van der Walt, Executive: Corporate and Investor Relations at Harmony Gold, have progressed their careers in the mining industry.
People of Gold: Hilda Sebetha challenges perceptions about working in the mining industry
Hilda Sebetha is a shiftboss at Harmony Gold’s Doornkop mine, having been appointed to this position in February 2014. While the title harks back to days of old, the role of a shiftboss in an underground gold mine is a critical one that requires mining skills, safety knowledge and commitment, and the ability to manage and motivate people. In fact, it is the many hundreds of shiftbosses who play a crucial interface between workers and managers.
Hilda’s journey to reach this point in her career has not been easy. Born in Leboakgomo, Limpopo, Hilda found herself in a desperate situation in after her husband passed away and she had to provide for her two small children alone. Without any tertiary education, or even a matric certificate, finding consistent employment which enabled her to provide for her family was difficult and she worked at various jobs including as a security guard and as a clerk at the University of Sekgosese.
In 2003, she decide to start afresh and began working as a temporary general miner for Harmony Gold’s Doornkop mine, just south west of Johannesburg. “When I started working for the mine, things were difficult because I always thought that the mining industry was a man’s world. But, because I had a poor background and really needed this job, I told myself that I could do this,” explains Hilda.
Six months into the job she completed a training course at one of Harmony Gold’s operations which provided her with general mining skills. This was followed by a two-month mono-rope winch course, which equipped Hilda with the knowledge and skills to work as a mono-rope winch operator at Doornkop mine. In 2005 she obtained her Blasting Certificate after undergoing training for over a year and became the first female miner to work in the ledging area at Doornkop mine’s 192 level. In 2008, she was appointed fulltime as miner and five years later, in February 2014, she was promoted to Shiftboss at the Doornkop mine.
What Hilda likes most about her job is engaging with people from different cultures every day, talking about safety and discussing ways to comply with mine safety standards to help her colleagues keep safe. Hilda says, “The mining industry is a hard-hitting one. But, as a woman, if you are willing to work hard, and overcome any perceived challenges, you can succeed. As a supervisor, I make sure that I lead by example, respect other people’s culture and treat everyone equally. We need to understand that mining can be a challenging environment for women to work in, but with the right training and skills development, and support from your employers, it can be rewarding too.”