Turning dreams into golden reality

THELMA Mathamelo started carving out a path for herself in the mining sector at the tender age of 14.

THELMA Mathamelo started carving out a path for herself in the mining sector at the tender age of 14.

At that age she asked her father, who worked as a nurse at one of the mines in Stilfontein, her home-town, to organise an underground tour to one of the mines to see how the industry operated.

"I wanted to know why so many men fell victim to mining accidents and left their homes without breadwinners. I also wanted to know why so many people from my home-town were going hungry when they had this rich land and resources," she says.

And so her journey in the mining industry began.

But it was in 1999, while studying for an MBA, that Mathamelo really ventured into the industry.

By the age of 28 she owned her first mining business.

But things were not as easy as this tough cookie had expected.

"I was young, black and a woman who never studied geology or engineering, but I persevered," says Mathamelo, whose projects have included being part of Minicro, a Randgold and Exploration Subsidiary company that has interests in diamond and gold mining.

Mathamelo's extensive experience in the sector has earned her directorships in major companies across the country, including being a shareholder in the Diamond Bourse of Africa, the first black empowered diamond house in South Africa.

She has been invited by the Commonwealth to speak at the G8 Summit in the UK about African women in the mining sector and has also represented the country at the United Nations during a World Youth Week, where she spoke about young people's involvement in business globally.

Her achievements have earned her many accolades, including being named Cosmopolitan magazine Mover of the Year in 2005, becoming a finalist in the coveted 2006 Nedbank Business Woman of the Year and being awarded the Business Woman of the Year Award for the SA Council for Businesswomen, of which she is now vice-president.

Asked about the main challenge facing women in the mining sector, Mathamelo said getting financial assistance from local banks remained a challenge for many aspiring mining entrepreneurs, particularly women.

"The business is still considered risky," she said, adding that she had to rely on external funding for some of her projects.

Mathamelo, who is also a qualified nurse, has not only had an impact in the mining sector, but has also shown her mentoring skills as a part-time lecturer at various institutes of higher learning.

Her passion for mentoring and educating young people saw her establishing Bonang Training and Development in 2003, which has trained more than 30000 people in life skills, management and technical skills.

Mathamelo has proved that she can wear as many hats as she wants with ease.

After developing an interest in the property development industry, Mathamelo again positioned herself as a force to be reckoned with. She became chairperson of Marothodi Resources and director of Batho-Pele Resources Mathamelo. As chairperson of Pholo Holdings, Mathamelo became involved in the R100million commercial property development project currently taking place at Ventersdorp in North West.

Though still in its infancy, Mathamelo said this multi-purpose facility office complex would provide access to government services such as health, social security, home affairs and revenue services.

Mathamelo, who has also launched the Thelma Mathamelo Foundation, which she fully funds herself, has simple advice for upcoming entrepreneurs: "As an entrepreneur it is never safe to put all your eggs in one basket.

"It is important to diversify into one or two other industries, either directly or indirectly related to your core business, as long as there's some kind of synchronisation, with sufficient capacity of course.

"Be confident enough to sell whatever you believe in. How can I expect someone to buy into my idea if I am not confident enough to flight it," she asked.

Mathamelo has proved that dreams can be achieved as she has turned hers into gold.