It is not too long ago that it would have been totally inconceivable for a black woman to playa significant role in the mining industry. These days, this industry still primarily a male preserve.
Women still have a long journey ahead of them before they can be said to have reached true equality, women are slowly beginning to play more than a meaningful role in our country’s mining industry.
We formed Kalahari Resources in 2001 with the intention of applying for a mining right in the mineral rich Kalahari Manganese Basin in the Northern Cape. In 2005 we secured a prospecting license for mangenese in the Kalahari Basin on three adjoining farms.
A prospecting license, however, is only the very first step. We were a long way – longer than even I had anticipated – from realising a dream of being the first black South African woman to sink a mine shaft and the first woman to run a mining project and great prospects of having a team of black women take over the management of this company during operations.
South African women have traditionally played a less than significant role in the mainstream of the mining and financial services industries in South Africa as a result these industries has little faith that women are equally capable of being great miners. We approached every single financial institution in the country to raise capital but were turned down every time. Banks were not prepared to invest in a greenfields mining project. Even development finance institutions were only prepared to provide financing once the mining right was secured.
We were determined not to fail at the first hurdle. We borrowed against everything we owned in our personal capacity in order to raise R12 million required to complete the pre-feasibility study whichtudy was completed in December 2006.In January 2007 the IDC made the much needed cash investment of R60 million into the project. We formed a new company called Kalagadi Manganese, of which Kalahari Resources owned 80% and the IDC 20% and it is through this new entity that a Bankable Feasibility Study for the project was conducted and in December 2007 we were awarded a mining license.
During June 2008, ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer acquired a 50% interest in Kalagadi for $433 million.We proceeded towards the implementation of the project soon after bringing ArcelorMittal on Board. We have concluded an offtake agreement with ArcelorMittal for at least 50% of our total production
Our project has a value of R11.0 billion and will consist of an underground mine, a ; an ore preparation facility and sinter plant and a smelter plant.The mine will produce 3 million tons ROM ore for further beneficiation at the sinter. The manganese sinter plant which we are currently constructing in the Northern Cape at a total cost of R3.6 billion, will create 500 direct jobs mainly for the local people and thereby contributing to the economic growth of the province. Construction of the manganese smelter at Coega will begin late thisyear. The first smelter output is expected end of 2012.
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.
The IDC has commited a further investment of nearly R3 billion into the project, This is amongst their largest projects for more than 30 years. The IDC recognises that the project is in line with Government’s industrial policy to increase minerals beneficiation within the county rather than simply exporting raw materials.
Although South Africa is a major supplier of manganese to global markets, it has had limited beneficiation capacity.
Manganese plays a key role in the production of steel. Typically it is used to improve steel toughness while retaining ductility and resistance to wear.
The global financial crisis had an impact on the growth of global steel output. Recovery in steel production has subsequently been led by China with demand for crude steel expected to grow strongly over the medium term with compound annual growth of 7.9% forecast to 2014.
The supply of manganese ore has traditionally been dominated by major mining groups operating in Australia, Russia, China and South Africa. There is evidence, however, that the ore grade of Chinese manganese is declining.
Kalagadi Manganese’s project area is situated in the Kalahari Manganese Basin which is estimated to contain 80% of the world’s known high-grade manganese resources. Indications are that up to one billion tons of mineable ore could exist under our prospecting area, covering an area of 8 000 hectares.
Add to that the fact that the company is also black owned and run by a team led by black woman in a country which has only recently recognised the rights of black people to participate in ownership of the mining sector, and the achievement is even more noteworthy.
The journey to this point has been fraught with obstacles and challenges. As if a lack of experience within the mining industry were not sufficient, wehave been faced with myriad other obstacles. To start with, raising the necessary capital was virtually impossible. Nobody was willing to go out on a limb and trust that a black woman knew what she was doing, particularly not in the traditionally white, male dominated mining industry.
Added to this, there was very little supporting infrastructure for new entrants to the market. The process to apply for a mining right was onerous and filled with seemingly endless bureaucratic red tape.
South African manganese resources have historically been controlled by a few players, and existing miners had vehement objections against our application.
What’s more, the manganese market is considered to be over populated. There is no doubt this is a tough market we’re entering.
I was also told on numerous occasions that manganese was a not glamorous and that we couldn’t build a sinter plant in the Northern Cape because of a lack of infrastructure, particularly lack of potable water electricity, railway capacity, roads etc.
I have faced every conceivable obstacle in my quest to get this project off the ground. You would assume that once you’ve been awarded your mining license, it is smooth sailing from there on and a license to print money. You would be wrong. My team and partners abandoned me in December 2008, saying that they didn’t think it was viable to sink a shaft at that time because of the global financial crises. I didn’t listen to them and in January 2009 the following year I went ahead and sank the shaft. Today, everyone is patting me on the back as we are 18 months ahead of everyone else.
If you haven’t already gathered this, I don’t like to be told ‘no’ or that something can’t be done. If somebody tells me that I can’t do something, I’ll prove them wrong. If something has never been done before, I’m the one who will ask, ‘why not?’
I may have entered this industry with little industry knowledge and virtually no technical expertise – but armed only with my commitment, conviction and passion – and learning the hard way, I have become a seasoned mining entrepreneur and a self-taught expert. What I don’t know about mining is probably not worth knowing in any event.
The journey has been hard at times. I still clearly remember not having enough money to pay for my parking at the very first company meeting I attended for the Manganese Project. I would alternate paying the bond one month and car repayments the next as I had insufficient funds to do both each month. Those were tough times indeed – and it was not not so long ago!
HOW TO WIN IN THE SECTOR
I am passionate about women’s rights and the empowerment of women. I sincerely believe that women have a meaningful role to play in the mining industry if they’re prepared to make the necessary commitment. However, we must be wary of stepping into the entitlement trap. Nobody owes us any special favours just because of our gender. If we, as women, are to succeed in this industry, it will be through our own blood, sweat and tears, not because of any handouts. We have to be prepared to put in the necessary effort if we want to achieve any significant level of success.
If you’re considering getting involved in the mining industry, remember that mining is a long-term journey. It’s not the right sector for you if you’re looking for a ‘get rich quick scheme’ or for short-term gains. Just because you’re a woman, don’t expect it to be easy. I can guarantee you that it is not an easy industry. Expect criticism, expect a dagger between your shoulders, and expect it to be hard. There will be many people out there only too happy to see you fail.
I’m not afraid to admit that I have failed many times. I have made mistakes. The secret to success is to stand up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes and move on. Remember former President Mandela’s wise words: ‘The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.’
My message to those individuals who are serial prospecting sellers: have you taken the time to consider your strategic intent? Consider who you sell to carefully. You have the power to make a real and meaningful difference in this country and its communities but you can’t do that if you’re simply selling to the highest bidder, to a faceless organisation that doesn’t have the interests of our beautiful country at heart.
I have no patience with those who feel a sense of entitlement or believe that they are owed something without putting in the commensurate level of effort. Nothing in life is for free. If you want something badly enough you must be prepared to work for it.
This industry needs women who are passionate about mining; individuals who believe they can make a difference. There is a growing role for women in the mining sector – particularly as legislation now requires mining companies to involve communities and to be increasingly cognizant of sustainability and environmental issues. But you need to be tough, you need to be determined and you must have the staying power required for the long haul. Perseverance needs to become your middle name.
You will be faced with many individuals – both men and women – who belittle you and your abilities. You need to have the courage of your convictions and stand firm for what you believe. I have had to face people who did not believe I could run this company effectively – simply because I was a woman and because I refused to kow-tow to their ideas of how things should be done.
You need to be able to overcome adversity, obstacles and challenges time and time again. That’s not to say that you need to lose the equally important parts of what makes you a woman: we’re mothers, grandmothers, wives, businesswomen, leaders, entrepreneurs, advisors and mentors all at the same time. There are so many demands made on women today because of the myriad roles we play in our homes, in our communities and in our businesses. Nobody said being a woman in this industry was the easiest path to travel!
What is important to remember is that it is only through hard work that you will achieve any level of success. The only way to achieve long-term success is through sustained efforts and by continually applying yourself to the best of your ability.
For the past nine years I have lived, breathed and slept this project. It has consumed my every waking moment. My dream is that Kalagadi Manganese will be a shining beacon of hope to all women wanting to participate in the mining industry in this country – and that my achievements will pave the way for other like-minded women to follow suit.
I believe I have a responsibility to empower women as much as possible and to break down barriers inherent in the mining industry. It is for this reason that I insist that 50% of all our employees must be women – even on site.I want to leave a legacy: a legacy for my children, my grandchildren and for the women of this country. It is a source of immense pride to me that I have been the first woman in the country to sink a shaft and that I will be the first to build a mine.
I am proof that you can shatter those glass ceilings if you’re determined enough.
Our biggest criticism of the South African mining industry is the lack of local beneficiation and that we allow our minerals and metals to be exported and beneficiated elsewhere – and then import them back as finished products at hugely inflated prices.
In spite of the fact that the Northern Cape is so richly endowed with both metals and minerals, it is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. The reason for this is that even though mining has been taking place in the Northern Cape for many years, beneficiation has always occurred elsewhere: Europe, the United States, Australia and China. This means other countries are making the real money, not South Africa and certainly not the Northern Cape.
The Northern Cape’s economic development is constrained by climatic extremes and limited infrastructure, including limited water resources and a vast land mass that must be covered to effect efficient service delivery. It has the lowest population density of all the provinces over a predominantly rural area with one of the highest poverty rates.
It relies heavily on primary production in the mining and agricultural industries, although mining makes a significantly bigger contribution to the province’s GDP than agriculture. At the same time, its economy is extremely vulnerable to extraneous factors such as a depreciating rand, global stock market volatility or financial depressions.
Historically, the residents of the Northern Cape have never been consulted or considered – let alone benefited - from the mining activities occurring in their province.
The impact of this project on the Northern Cape’s GDP will be in the region of 21%, supporting approximately 23 000 jobs. The largest number of jobs will be created during the construction phase of the project, increasing current employment rates by eight percent. In total, the project will increase the number of people employed per household from 1.02 to 1.28.
Mining beneficiation which takes place in the province is a key component of our project and will benefit employment figures more especially skilled labour, increase infrastructure development and make a meaningful difference to communities.
We have established that the first level of beneficiation will increase the quality of our product from 37% to 48%. This consequently grows the value of the manganese. Once we’ve shipped the product to Coega in the Eastern Cape and further beneficiate it, the quality rises to a further 78% and again significantly increases the value per ton. The bottom line is that as soon as you start beneficiating, everybody gains.
Once you start factoring in the number of jobs created by beneficiating in the province, it is clear that not only will employment figures grow, skills levels will increase – but the project also goes some way towards achieving Government’s strategic goals for sustainable growth.
We are involving the local community in the development of the mine and they are being consulted and considered. We have set aside large sums of money promote sustainable human settlements and these will be paid out once we are operational.
In addition, there are numerous infrastructural benefits for the Northern Cape:
- Both water and electricity infrastructures will be increased. We will be putting in place a 70km water pipeline which will benefit local community members as well as farmers along the route of the pieline. We are encouraging Eskom to extend its electricity reach and develop additional substations.
- Other benefits include an increased ICT infrastructure,
- Skills development;
- Development of the secondary sectors; and ultimately
- Local economic development.
We at Kalagadi Manganese are very excited about the future. This is the first time that there has ever been a mine and smelter built and run predominantly by women. We’re proud to be involved in one of the biggest greenfields manganese projects to be seen globally in the last 30 to 40 years.
There are no guarantees that the future will be any easier than the past, but we’ve learned many lessons over the past few years and we’re consequently well positioned to face any challenge or eventuality.
We have the vision, the passion and a concrete business plan in place. Failure is not an option - if this project fails, it fails the women of South Africa and that is not something we are even prepared to contemplate. No matter what odds are stacked against this project in the future, wewill make it work.
It’s not about how much money we can make out of this project – rather, it is about leaving a lasting legacy for good and for positive transformation. It is about forging new paths so that other women, in turn, can take our place and also make their mark on their mining industry in this country.
No matter how dark the night, the day is yest to come. If you come across difficulty in yor journey, take comfort in that those too will pass.
I thank you for listening.
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