Sandra Seabela

Sandra Seabela

Job title (at time of interview)Mining Engineer and Section Manager at Kumba Iron Ore

LocationSouth Africa

Love what you do and work hard to achieve excellence in your work. Passion will take you to places where talent/skill may not reach.

August 2020

Sandra Seabela is a mining engineer working as a Section Manager at a remote mine site for Kumba Iron Ore in South Africa, having started her career in coal mining. A graduate of University of the Witwatersrand, Sandra was the youngest person to win the Standard Bank Rising Star award in the mining and minerals category in 2015, while working at Glencore’s Optimum Coal. Sandra represented IWiM at international mining conferences in Dubai and Switzerland in 2019, presenting on women in mining and mining technology topics.

By Kathy Sole

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

    A family friend visited my family when I was in Grade 10, with a brochure from Mintek [the South African government-owned minerals research institute] and there was an article on career opportunities: I liked the sound of a mining engineer. I liked the fact that it was not every girl/woman’s first career choice. The opportunities that were available then for women who were “brave” enough to take up those careers inspired me to take this path.

  • Please describe your current role.

    I am a Section Manager in a large iron-ore open-pit mine in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. I am responsible for drilling and blasting operations. The biggest chunk of my role is to ensure the health and safety of teams working in the section, ensure compliance to legislature, ensure quality blasts for efficient downstream processes, and deliver all of this at the most cost-efficient and profitable manner.

  • What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?

    My experience has been a beautiful adventure, full of lot of lessons that go beyond the business of mining. I have learned a lot from people of different cultural, educational and social backgrounds.

  • What are you passionate about in your work?

    Sharing my experiences from the mines I have worked in and the learning from the diverse team of people I work with. My biggest passion is in coaching and sharing best practices with my teams to drive excellence in our work.

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

    I have a number of mentors who were very instrumental and helpful in different stages/phases of my career to date. In return, I have a number of protégés in mining with whom I gladly share my experiences with the hope of helping them in their careers.

  • What challenges have you experienced by virtue of working in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?

    The biggest challenge was when I started off as a graduate and had to go underground with a team of men as old as my father, and had to lead them with very limited experience. It took confidence and fast-paced learning to get comfortable with doing it, and also the comfort of knowing that each experience is a lesson and I will get better at it.

  • You have had the honour of representing IWiM at two international mining conferences in 2019. Please tell us about these presentations and their impact.

    These were very empowering experiences where I got to network with people from all over the world. It was also my first time visiting a country outside of Africa.

    My presentation at the Mining Show held in Dubai focused on achieving new lows and reducing production costs with technology in the South African mining industry. The presentation sparked an interesting discussion on how technology advancements have enabled the industry to improve its safety performance and the opportunity it further creates in the journey to Zero Harm milestones.

    I also presented on the role played by women in mining in the South African industry at the 14th Session UNECE Group of Experts on Coal Mining Methane, held at the United Nations in Geneva. The presentation opened the audience to the challenges and opportunities of women in mining and there was commitment from the audience to ensure that gender transformation forms part of the agenda of their annual conference.

  • Should more women be encouraged to do public speaking and would you like to do more public speaking in the future?

    More women should be encouraged to do public speaking as it is a platform for us to speak up on issues that we want addressed as women in mining. I would be more than happy to speak more in the future.

  • What would you love to do next?

    I would love to gain experience on the corporate side of the mining business to match it up with my operational experience.

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

    That it is a going to be a journey full of interesting experiences, some pleasant and some not, but they will all help me grow into the person I am today and want to become.

  • What is the biggest mistake that you’re really happy you made?

    The “mistake” of taking an opportunity that looked like a demotion, but has set me up for better career opportunities. The magic of starting over. 🙂

  • Do you sit on a board? If not, would you like to?

    No. Yes, I would like to.

  • What is your opinion in the women on boards’ debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?

    I am all for representation of women in all spheres of the mining business and I am happy that there are targets set to assist companies to create opportunities for women to participate. I know that women bring a significant amount of value to teams they are part of and, when they are given an opportunity, they excel.

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

    Yes, I know they make mining look and feel more accommodating and they provide networking platforms with like-minded people.

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

    My advice is to first love what you do and work hard to achieve excellence in your work. I wish I knew that passion will take you to places where talent/skill may not reach.

  • What is your secret to work–life balance?

    To plan and focus on each aspect of your life as if it’s the only one you have.

  • Do you have any books that you can recommend for professional development?

    These books have helped me in my professional development:
    1. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
    2. How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie
    3. Lift as you rise by Bonang Mohale and
    4. Boardroom dancing by Nolitha Fakude
    5. Smart Woman by Sylvia Walker

  • What books are you currently reading?

    Mainly biographies and self-help books.

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

    I love travelling – mostly the outdoor and adventurous and extreme activities. I also love baking and making things: I can make beads to wear and simple clothing items.


Sandra Seabela is a mining engineer and currently a Section Manager at Kumba’s Sishen Iron Ore Mine in South Africa. She has experience in opencast and underground coal mining as well as open-pit iron-ore mining. She is a registered Candidate engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and a member of numerous professional associations. She is the chairperson of Wits University Mining Engineers Association (WUMEA) (Northern Cape branch), which assists with financial support for needy mining engineering students at the University of the Witwatersrand. Sandra presented at two international mining conferences in 2019 on women in mining and mining technology topics.