Speech to be delivered by Ms Daphne Mashile-Nkosi at the Women's Forum Programme
Good afternoon ladies, gentlemen and honoured guests:
I have been an activist all my life. If someone tells me that I cannot do something, I will prove to them that I can. If it has not yet been done, my response is “why not”? If you have the strength to break a door down, the rest will follow.
All my life I have fought for what I believed in and I have been a gender activist for as long as I can remember. I am driven by the empowerment of women and I hope that in some way I can be seen as a role model to them.
The thought that I would like to share with women who are facing adversity is that life is never easy. You have to believe in what you want, and you need to know that every journey begins with a first step. This is where you will find the resilience to fight back and persevere.
As a child, I was the one who asked the questions no one wanted to answer. I have always been someone who challenges the status quo.I grew up in a poor family. My grandfather worked on the mines and died of lung complications as a result. It was only due to donations from others that I was able to write the exams that qualified me to finish my schooling. Poverty is a great motivator; I swore that my children would not know the same hardships.
My belief in the empowerment of women, my love for my children and my will to provide them with a better life is initially what drove me. My love for my community, my country and my desire for South Africa to achieve great things has continued to motivate me to push on.
I hope to pass my legacy to other women in South Africa through my work as the Chairman of the Women’s Development Bank Investment Holdings. It is through this body that we are able to raise money and give micro-finance to black rural women, empowering them to make their own money and realise their own strength as providers for their families and communities.
My career in mining occurred more by chance than by design. I was working as the National Co-ordinator for the Movement of Rural Women at the time. This is an independent non profit social development company and a women’s land rights organisation that seeks to eliminate poverty by providing community training on land and property rights and enhancing women’s participation in local government. It’s an organisation which is intent on fighting for the rights of women and overcoming the underlying patriarchal structures in our society.
I took up the opportunity to work in the male dominated industry of mining so that I could make my mark as a woman. I have always wanted to challenge industries where women were traditionally not represented and here was my chance.
However, as a woman, and a black woman at that, my ability to be successful in this field was endlessly doubted.
The Kalagadi Manganese Project
I am a founder and chairperson of a company called Kalahari Resources which was formed in 2001 as a result of new mining legislation which gave historically disadvantaged individuals an opportunity to participate in South Africa’s mainstream economy.
Kalahari Resources bought together women groups and entrepreneurs with broad based participants and beneficiaries. In the process a truly South African company committed to transforming society was created.
We established the company with the intention of gaining access to manganese resources in the mineral rich Kalahari Manganese Basin in the Northern Cape Province, home to around 80% of global manganese resources. We applied for and in 2005 were awarded a license to prospect for manganese in the Kalahari Basin, specifically on three adjoining farms in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province.
I recall not having enough money to pay for parking at the very first company meeting I attended for the Manganese Project. The meeting was held in a restaurant; however I drank only tap water and declined offers of food, as I would not have been able to contribute to the bill.
This was a time in my life when I paid the bond on my house one month, and fulfilled my car repayments the next, as I could not do without either, but could not afford to pay for both. I could have thrown in the towel at that point and gone back to formal employment, but it is not in my nature to give up that easily.
The greatest challenge facing the project was raising capital to make it a reality. I approached every single bank in the country, and was turned down every time. Not one organisation within the financial sector was prepared to invest in a greenfields project and even development finance institutions were only prepared to provide financing after prospecting risks had been taken out.
However, that was not the only stumbling b lock. In fact, we were beset by obstacles from every conceivable angle. There was little supporting infrastructure for new entrants to the sector while the mining license application process was onerous and filled with bureaucratic red tape.
Manganese resources in South Africa have traditionally been controlled by a few players and existing miners had vehement objections against our application. My determination not to fail due to a lack of funding led me to borrow against everything I owned in my personal capacity in order to raise the necessary finance to complete the pre-feasibility study.
The exploration project identified 102 million tonnes of mineral resources. Once the exploration work had been completed, one of the country’s Development Finance Institutions acquired 20% of the project and we formally established Kalagadi Manganese (Pty) Ltd in early 2006.
In August last year, ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, acquired a 50% interest in the project for US$432.5 million. We then formed an operating company for the implementation of the project and the latter will enter into an off take agreement with the new company to take at least 50% of the production of both sinter and alloy.
Courage and resilience have been key factors in ensuring that we have overcome the many challenges in our path. Not only have we invested in the necessary infrastructure to get the project off the ground but we’ve also learned that we don’t accept the words ‘no’ or ‘cannot’. We’ve also successfully taken on the much larger and very established existing players. I have fought against people who believed that I could not run this company effectively simply because I am a woman. I believe I have now proved them wrong. I can still clearly remember a time when we battled to raise even US$650 000. Today the company has paid a cash dividend of US$30 million to its shareholders, at least 70% of whom are women. It has been a tough and long fight, but when you have the unshakable belief that the fight is worth it, you will always come out in the end.
Today, we are the first mining company in the world to be building an underground manganese-ore mine, a sinter plant and a smelter. The fact that we are also a black-owned company, run by women, in a country which has only recently recognised the rights of black people, is an even greater source of pride. The creation of local beneficiation facilities has been a key component of the project. In spite of the fact that South Africa – and the Northern Cape in particular – has always been well endowed with mineral rights, the area is one of the poorest Provinces in my country. The reason is that even though mining has long taken place in the Northern Cape, beneficiation has occurred elsewhere: in Europe, the United States and Australia.
Historically, the residents of the Northern Cape have not been consulted or considered in any way, let alone benefited from the mining activity occurring on their doorstep. I am determined that this status quo will not continue and that going forward the local community is involved, consulted and considered. In addition to providing jobs for local community members, our social labour plan involves a comprehensive community development programme which includes sustainable human settlements as well as the provision of healthcare and education facilities. The project has created around 1 200 construction jobs and more than 1 000 direct jobs, all critical factors when you consider that South Africa’s unemployment rate is conservatively estimated to be around 28%.
The mine is due to be fully operational by 2011 and our challenge will then be to ensure that it is run as a world class business. We have a way to go yet before this project is completed but I am confident that we will achieve our aim of becoming an internationally recognised manganese producer owned, managed and controlled by women with positive environmental impact and by successfully involving local communities. There is little doubt that there is a growing role for women in the mining sector, particularly as South African legislation now requires mining entities to involve communities and to be cognisant of sustainability and environmental issues.
I am proof that glass ceilings can be kicked out and formerly closed doors physically pushed open. I entered the mining industry with very little industry knowledge and no technical background at all. Armed only with my convictions and commitment – and learning the hard way – I have become a seasoned mining entrepreneur, with hands on involvement on the project.
So, while it has been a rough and rocky road fraught with endless booby traps and stumbling blocks to get here, the result is that what I don’t know about mining isn’t worth knowing. I could write books about mining and there is no area in which I’m not an expert.
Failure has never been an option – in fact, it’s not part of my vocabulary! Resilience is a key part of my psychological make-up and has become a characteristic of the entire company. As a young start-up organisation, our resilience is borne out of our deep seeded desire to succeed in spite of operating in an industry where the barriers to entry for black women are high.
Long term success will not be due to quick wins or lady luck but rather through sustained efforts and hard work. What I have learned is that if you believe in something sufficiently, then it is worth putting that extra effort in. What you put in will be what you get out. As Winston Churchill so succinctly put it: ‘Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.’
How can the lessons regarding resilience we have learned through Manganese Project be rolled out to the broader community? There is no doubt that education is a key enabler towards developing resilient individuals. While education is not the only enabler, it provides the tools to overcome even seemingly insurmountable odds. Leadership support is paramount as is active community support and engagement.
In conclusion I’d like to quote US President, Barack Obama who said, ‘Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.’
Things move quickly around here. At Internet speed. That means we have to be nimble, both in how we work and how we hire. We look for people who are great at lots of things, love big challenges and welcome big changes.