Ebelia Manda

Ebelia Manda

Job title (at time of interview)Mining Engineering Lecturer, Copperbelt University PhD student, China University of Mining and Technology

LocationZambia, China

Ebelia Manda graduated with distinction as Zambia’s first female mining engineer. She has worked in both open-pit and underground mines for Konkola Copper Mines and Barrick Gold. She holds an MSc from Camborne School of Mines, UK, and is currently pursuing her PhD in mining engineering in China. She discusses some of the challenges and rewards of this cross-cultural opportunity.

Great things do not come easily: every great achievement comes with a price. You need to be determined to overcome whatever obstacles come your way.

November 2020

Ebelia Manda is a lecturer and researcher in Mining Engineering at Copperbelt University in Zambia. She was the first female Zambian mining engineer to graduate from the University of Zambia. She also holds a Master of Science degree in Mining Engineering from the University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines, United Kingdom, and is currently pursuing a PhD at China University of Mining and Technology. She has eight years of experience in both underground and open-pit copper mines, working for Konkola Copper Mines and Barrick Gold Mine in Zambia. She is a professional member of the Engineering Institute of Zambia.


By Kathy Sole

  • How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?

    I have grown to derive pleasure from charting uncharted territory. Upon learning that the School of Mines at the University of Zambia had never graduated any female mining engineers, I became enthusiastic to pursue this. The moment I stepped my foot into the school, I knew that I had made the best decision. I actually broke the records, graduated with a distinction, and was awarded for the best final-year project.

  • Please describe your current role.

    I am a Mining Engineering Lecturer at the Copperbelt University in Zambia. I lecture topics of rock excavation engineering (drilling and blasting), mineral economics, and operations research. My role is to teach and supervise research projects for undergraduates. I am also currently pursuing my PhD in Mining Engineering at China University of Mining and Technology in Xuzhou, China, with a particular interest in IOT (Internet of Things), sustainable mining, and the environment.

  • What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector? What challenges have you experienced by virtue of working in an industry that is predominantly male?

    My experience in the mines was intriguing because, being the first female mining engineer, I had to be a role model for upcoming women in mining engineering. I had to set the tone and make the male folk believe that women can equally do it. I am glad that I pioneered.

    The major challenge I experienced was lack of acceptance by some male counterparts. I remember being told these words by a manager when I was found underground: “What is this beautiful lady doing underground instead of being in my kitchen cooking?” The sentiment was discouraging, but I quickly got over it. I had to go an extra mile to prove that I was equal to the task.

  • You are currently pursuing your PhD in China. Please tell us how this experience has been for you. How have you handled the cultural differences? Do you find better acceptance of women in the mining industry there?

    Pursuing my PhD in China has been both intriguing and challenging. Intriguing, in that I was given an opportunity to co-author two mining engineering books for the school: Surface Mining and Mine Reclamation and Environment. This is a great honour for me. My professors have been good and helpful. My biggest challenge is the language barrier. I’m still learning to speak Mandarin and the majority of Chinese don’t speak English either; hence, this has a bearing on what I can get and what I can contribute.
    I am learning a lot about Chinese culture and I have very good and welcoming Chinese friends who are making my stay memorable: to mention but a few, my supervisors Professor Cai Qingxiang (才庆祥), Professor Zhou Wei (周伟), Mrs Zhou (笑纳), my medical doctor Dr. Zhuzhuxia (猪猪侠), Zhaowenxin (赵文新), some PhD students, Dr. Lu Xiang and Dr. Luan, and many more.
    China still doesn’t allow women in underground mines, so for me this was already a limitation because it meant that my research was only feasible in openpit operations.
  • What are you passionate about in your work?

    I have a passion for sharing knowledge and conducting research. I find pleasure in teaching and seeing the confidence it brings to the learners when they get equipped. Having worked in the mining industry in both underground and open-pit mines, I strongly felt that I needed to give more to my country through lecturing. I want to see well-trained mining engineers deemed fit for purpose in the industry to manage our God-given non-renewable resources, which are our country’s economic backbone. I am passionate about new frontiers in mining technologies and how best they can be utilised for production efficiency. I am currently researching the Internet of Things, intelligent mining, and machine-learning technologies.

  • Have you had mentors or sponsors that helped you on the way?

    I was sponsored by Barrick Gold Mine at my Bachelor degree level and they gave me the training I needed in copper mining. Unfortunately, I have never had formal mentors, which I think needs to be improved. Due to my experience, I wish to formally mentor upcoming female mining engineers. In the past, I have conducted careers talks in some secondary schools, with the aim of stirring interest in the female students to purse mining engineering.

  • What would you love to do next?

    I would love to conduct more research as a post-doctoral researcher in machine learning, IoT, and solve some industrial production problems in Zambia. Opening a consultancy firm in mining technology and reclamation strategies is something that burns in me. I would also be delighted to work with a big company like Rio Tinto or a research institute.

  • What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now.

    Being diligent in one’s work attracts unexpected opportunities.  It’s ok to be unique and stand out and not try to always fit in.

  • Do you have a career change that you’re really happy you made?

    Branching to academia. I really enjoy passing on the knowledge of mining to my students, especially as I have worked in the mining industry in both underground and open-pit operations. I really feel satisfied because my services are contributing directly to the Zambian economy through the qualified human resources that we provide to the mining industry every year. I always feel proud when I go back to industry and meet managers or engineers that have passed through my hands.

  • Do you believe that Women in Mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?

    Yes. The mining industry, being male-dominated, can be a very lonely place for women, hence WiM groups can be a support for women, where they can learn what to expect in the mines, can share their experiences, and can get some mentorship from other women. Mentoring from WiM groups can facilitate positive socialization among women in the mining industry by encouraging interaction with successful individuals and by providing psychological and social behaviour support. This support can help women overcome perceived gender role barriers. It can also be a source of inspiration to upcoming female engineers.

  • Any advice to young women starting out in their careers? What do you wish you’d know when you were 25?

    Great things do not come easily: every great achievement comes with a price. You need to be determined to overcome whatever obstacles come your way.

    Be diligent in your work: let your work always speak for you. Be a keen learner and avail yourself to learn new skills, even from your subordinates. There are a lot of opportunities for eagle-eyed people, hence always stay focused.

    I wish I knew that a positive attitude is a determinant for success. A positive mind set always yields positive results.

  • What is your secret to work–life balance?

    My husband (John Mvula) and I have come up with a model called SHFABWS. This  acronym stands for:

    S – spiritual: I’m a Christian, hence my spiritual being has to be nourished through praying, reading the Bible, and building literature.

    H – health: I’m aware that my health matters the most, hence I need to exercise and keep fit.

    F – family: I treasure my family time because I believe that an intact family is the generator of an efficient and productive mind. I’m always a hands-on mother and wife: I cook, teach, and play with my three children (Chasdiel, Maranatha, and Yatniel).

    A – academic: Academics always makes one stay relevant. They say that the moment you stop reading, you start aging. I evaluate what I have learnt or taught someone.

    B – business: I always search for business frontiers that I can venture into or expand.

    W – work: I make sure that my work plan is up-to-date and my customers (my students) are satisfied.

    S – social: Last, but not the least, is my social domain: checking and catching up on my friends and trending news.

    My definition of a successful day is a preserved SHFABWS. At the end of each day, during myself-introspection, I check whether or not SHFABWS was adhered to. This model keeps me in check.

  • What books are you currently reading? Do you have any books that you can recommend for professional development?

    I have a strong interest in technology, hence I am reading these books: New Developments in Mining Engineering 2015: Theoretical and Practical Solutions of Mineral Resources Mining (CRC Press, 2020) and Internet of Things (IoT): Technologies, Applications, Challenges and Solutions (CRC Press, 2018). I would strongly recommend these books for upcoming engineers.

  • Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?

    My hobbies are cooking, baking, aerobics, and visiting new places.