23-Mar-2015 | Fadzai Nyamasve
The history of mining globally has come a long way, particularly when it comes to women. As recent as 10 years ago, it was technically illegal for a woman to go underground in a mine in South Africa, and in Western Australia women were not permitted underground until 1986. Though now legal and permissible, the underground mine pit and beneficiation plant remains a challenging work environment — something I can attest to, having spent several years on site-based projects myself.
To provide some context on the importance of mining in Africa, the continent is richly gifted with mineral reserves and ranks either first or second in its quantity of world reserves of bauxite, cobalt, industrial diamonds, phosphate rock, platinum-group metals and gold — with gold mining as the main mining resource. For many African countries, mineral exploration and beneficiation contributes significantly to their economic growth and gross domestic product. However, there are many challenges in attracting investments in Africa’s mineral industry due to the lack of infrastructure and availability of large pools of skilled resources to support the projects as well as socio-political instability.
The solution to these challenges for the global mining community — mining houses, engineering houses, investors and governments — calls for further development and a deliberate focus on a mining strategy for Africa. This strategy would need to provide for the building and maintenance of sustainable communities that will enable continued business beyond the scope of the projects and life of the mines.
In my experience working in the mining industry, this strategy has not been given the attention and focus it deserves. It is commonly referred to as “corporate social responsibility” or a “corporate social initiative,” which in my opinion, creates a bias toward this being a philanthropic effort rather than a sustainable, long-term business and industry strategy. By giving the right focus and attention to this strategy, the global mining community will create a sustainable environment for the future of mining in Africa. Not only does this create a sustainable environment, it significantly lowers the socio-political risks that often turn investors away from Africa.
There is, indeed, a greater role to play above ground with a strategy such as this that could pave the way for the future and also one that, in recent times, has been taken up by women within Africa’s mining sector. Women like Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, executive chairperson of Kalagadi Manganese Pty Ltd in South Africa, which currently owns the largest manganese sinter plant in the world, are setting the trend in advocating for mining strategies. These strategies are bringing about sustainable environmental solutions on water and carbon emissions, electricity supply, community infrastructure development, local supplier development, education, skills training and the setup of long-term community trusts or funds.
Women in Africa are influencing and driving these pivotal mining strategies particularly when it comes to the decision making, financing, investing, engineering and governance of mining projects in Africa. The mining industry in Africa still has a long way to go — with much of Africa’s resources untapped — and, as it evolves, the role of women in unlocking the present barriers and challenges will grow with it. There is no doubt that a need exists to bring about faster development and increased investor confidence, but the solution lies in looking at mining in Africa with a different perspective — one offered by the women who are leading the way.
Fadzai Nyamasve is a senior project engineer in AECOM’s mining and metals business line in Africa. She has experience in mining resources projects in both Australia and Africa, and is passionate about mining and development in Africa.
LinkedIn: Fadzai Nyamasve