On golden ground

For 15 years Smangele Mngomezulu worked as an information retrieval officer for mining giant Anglo American.

For 15 years Smangele Mngomezulu worked as an information retrieval officer for mining giant Anglo American.

Not once did she think that one day she would run a company in the mining industry, or own one for that matter.

Today, Mngomezulu is the proud owner of Nesa Mining, director of Phisana Mining and general secretary of the South African Women in Mining Association (Sawima).

Women like Mngomezulu are rare in South Africa. In fact, government statistics show that women make up only 3,5 percent of the total mining workforce in this country.

Mngomezulu says the small number of women in the mining industry is disturbing.

"I don't understand why women are not venturing into mining. A number of opportunities exist for women in this industry, from jewellery making to coal crushing and gold dust vacuuming. Obviously one would be faced with huge challenges when starting a company, but they will fade away eventually," says Mngomezulu.

"I didn't get to where I am today by sitting at my computer writing business proposals. I knocked on people's doors with those proposals until they were opened. Some doors would be slammed in my face, but I continued because I was determined to get into mining," says Mngomezulu.

"I have faced multitudes of obstacles, from resistance by men to convincing financial institutions to fund my business ideas.

"My journey hasn't been an easy one. If I didn't have the determination and patience, I would not own a mining company today," says Mngomezulu.

Mngomezulu founded Nesa Mining eight years ago. The company employs 10 women who use vacuum cleaners to sweep up metal-bearing material left behind in old mining areas.

Among the long list of mining companies they service is Anglo.

"When I look back at 1976 when I joined Anglo American as a clerk it seemed impossible that a black person would own a mining company. We were made to believe that mines belonged to white people and the only job for a black there was underground digging for gold," she says.

"Women were prohibited from working underground. If they had an opportunity to work in the mining industry, they would do so as a clerk or 'tea girl'.

"However, things have changed. I now wear my helmet and overalls and head underground without problems," she says.

"Though one can still face some resistance from men, it is not as harsh as it used to be.

"When my team and I go underground, men stare at us in amazement - some would be impressed and some not.

"At the end of the day, it is not about them, but about us and maintaining our families," emphasises Mngomezulu.

Of the 3,5percent of women in South Africa's massive mining industry, only a handful are in top positions.

However, this is about to change because the government is calling for 10percent of jobs in the mining sector to be filled by women by 2009.

Mngomezulu praises the government for its initiative to encourage women empowerment in the mining sector.

"It is about time the mining industry took a closer look at its employment equity.

"There are a number of women geologists who are unemployed, but are eager to work in this sector.

"It is now up to us women to ensure the mining charter works for us," she says.

"I believe a woman can do anything as long as she puts her mind to it.

"The only thing we need now as South African women is to empower ourselves.

"Once we have done that, we can encourage our daughters to challenge this male-dominated industry," says this mother of two.

A divorcee, she lives in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, with her 11-year-old daughter Ntandwenhle and 28-year-old son Vus'muzi.