Metallic with a conscience

Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, executive chair of Kalagadi Manganese

The biggest manganese sinter plant in the world, in terms of output, is being built on South African soil and a phenomenal businesswomen with a passion for social justice is the driving force behind it.

Manganese is one of the most sought-after naturally occurring metals in the world. Its importance in the world’s industrial sector is highly significant as it directly relates to the development of alloys and the production of stainless steel. South Africa, being one of the top global exporters of the metal, will soon boast the largest manganese sinter plant in the world (in terms of output).

The new R7 billion mining venture, which will include an ore preparation plant and sinter plant, is currently being developed in Hotazel in the Northern Cape and will serve as a future model to ensure that mineral wealth will lead to economic development in especially poverty-stricken areas.

Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, executive chair of Kalagadi Manganese, who recently launched the billion rand infrastructure project talks to Leadership about her views on present day mining – and more importantly, her overwhelming passion for social justice.

Born in Pilgrims Rest, she grew up in the areas between Mpumalanga and Soweto where she attended school and matriculated in 1976. Growing up poor, she and her three siblings, two brothers and a sister, felt the cruel injustice of the apartheid system and after completing her schooling Mashile-Nkosi became a political activist until the fall of the regime. Today she balances family life and pastimes – her prime goal is to reach out to those in need.

“I am a daughter, a sister, a mother, an aunt, and a grandmother. This has taught me the importance of all the different roles that one needs to play in a family. I like reading, writing and travelling. Outside of the corporate environment, I use my time to reach out to the less fortunate in communities,” Mashile-Nkosi comments.

Although 2014 marks twenty years into democracy, Mashile-Nkosi is still far from abandoning her title as activist. Today she is actively involved in gender activism, encouraging businesses to embrace the significant task of empowering some of our most vulnerable groups, in particular young African women.

Reflecting back on her days as a youth, little would she have guessed that she would rise to the phenomenal achievements that accompany her today. She bears the title of executive chairperson for Kalagadi Manganese.

Her many titles and accolades include that of trustee and chairperson of the Women’s Development Bank Trust, chairperson of Women’s Development Bank Investments Holdings (Proprietary), and she was nominated by the Women’s Development Bank to study development economics in Nagoya, Japan, in 1993. She is also involved in a number of  additional companies such as Temoso Telecommunications, Bhakazi Banalima and Metmar Trading.

“I represent shareholder interests as a director in these companies. I am also a founder and a director in companies such as Temoso Telecommunication. Overall, my involvement centres around ensuring that the interests of shareholders are properly served,” she says.

The history of Kalagadi Manganese dates back to 2001 when she and her late husband, Stanley Nqobiziziwe Nkosi, together with their strategic business partners, made a trip to the Northern Cape in search of manganese mining opportunities. “During our planning, we set out to build an integrated mine, with beneficiation being a critical component of our entire mining value chain. This plan translated into the new development. The final phase will be the construction of a Smelter Plant in the Coega IDZ where the product will be further beneficiated to 78% high-carbon ferromanganese. The cost of this final lap stands in the region of R5 billion,” she says.

Touching on the long-standing issue of a more equitable distribution of natural wealth and resources in South Africa, Mashile-Nkosi says  there are a number of factors that need to be in place for this goal to be achieved.

“If we rightfully distribute land that is richly endowed with natural wealth to the former disadvantaged sections of our population, without the critical component of funding required to develop that land, we are still light-years away from realising the equitable distribution of resources. So, given that it is only 20 years since the advent of a new South Africa, we have made some strides in a positive direction, but we still have some ground to cover to ensure that all the critical ingredients required for the equitable distribution of natural wealth and resources are in place,” she notes.

Looking at transformation in the mining sector, Mashile-Nkosi says that this will continue to be a bone of contention for some years to follow. She notes that it is an unfortunate fact that nobody can undo the damage of centuries within 20 years and we need to use policies and monitoring measures to bring about the transformation we desire.

Furthermore, she notes that women are still marginalised in this sector, despite the declaration of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality of 1994, which states that, “There shall be no categorisation of jobs on the basis of gender, nor shall gender stereotypes determine the work that women do.”

Mashile-Nkosi’s life as an activist dates back to her student days in 1976. The events surrounding that time resulted in a long history of commitment to developing black communities and in particular women.

“I was also detained for such activism, and later became a founder member of the Detainees Parents Support Committee, which gave moral and material support to families of detainees and political prisoners during the 70s and early 80s. I was active in the formation of the United Democratic Front and after the ANC was unbanned, I became the chairperson of the Soweto Sub-region of the Women’s League and General Secretary of the Soweto South African Communist Party.

“We have also ensured that women are given meaningful and critical roles at Kalagadi Manganese – especially in the fields of finance, geology and engineering,” she says.

The recent turbulence in the mining industry has been a cause for great concern for many with regard to the impact it might have on the economy.

According to Mashile-Nkosi, their venture was not affected and she says there are many ways in which the recent turbulence could be circumvented. She mentions ensuring that there are proper and fair contracts between employees and employers and the need to be sensitive and proactive in mitigating negative developments that may arise.

Her approach here is that it does not suggest that such sensitivity and pro-activeness were not in place when the turbulence occurred, but that this seeks to emphasis the need for monitoring such initiatives. When it comes the investment leg, she makes reference to living by the dictum: “We invest in preparedness, not prediction.” She also says mining is a cyclical sector, with peaks and troughs. “We might be at the rock bottom in the sector now, with no light in sight, but things will certainly correct or revert to their average performance,” she says.

The importance of mining and proper infrastructure is crucially linked and the effect that this has on the economy can be quite profound should we compromise on this vital component.

“Mining is a capital intensive sector. In this regard, the absence of critical and proper infrastructure exacerbates the capital intensity of the sector which could unwittingly shave off the profits that investors could have realised, and thus lead to capital flight in the sector. Proper infrastructure can reverse the possibilities of capital flight and serve as incentive for attracting investment in the mining sector,” Mashile-Nkosi comments.

Last year Kalagadi Manganese and its partner, Arcellor Mittal, found themselves in a dispute that left many wondering whether this seemingly acrimonious relationship would negatively impact the success of the venture.

“Our differences were nothing personal but business-centered. We have been able to reach an agreement and to proceed with what we set out to do from the beginning. Any buyout will have to be strategic to the growth of the business; as such, any such move cannot be impulsive and therefore should not impact the business negatively,” she says.

Looking at the social crises in South Africa that links to unemployment and disempowerment, mining can play a significant role in providing a means of income to bolster the economy and uplift many of the groups that are left out in the rain.

“Mining has been critical to the industrialisation of South Africa. The JSE owes its existence to the gold mining activity that took place on the Witwatersrand region in 1886, which required funding.

“South Africa remains the largest producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium and vermiculite. This will continue to be the case for many years to come, given the estimates of our mineral wealth, which pointed to South Africa being the wealthiest mineral jurisdiction. As such, the sector has the capacity to help address most of the social ills that plague our country with the assistance of policies that will address the importance of beneficiation,” she mentions.

Being a phenomenal business and social leader, Mashile-Nkosi highlights some of the key components that makes a good leader.

As for leadership, Mashile-Nkosi says a leader must be a visionary, optimistic, decisive, and independent in thought — self-motivated, tenacious and patient. She feels that a good leader must never abdicate his or her responsibilities, be hands-on and willing to soil their hands.

When reflecting on her own leadership qualities, she rates her  resilience, self-motivation, tenacity, courageousness, vision and patience tops and says the hallmark success in her life would be the completion of the newly planned smelter plant.

Mashile-Nkosi also delivered a speech at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service in December last year. “He taught me, by way of example, the value of self-sacrifice. Therefore honouring his legacy requires that we remember what he stood for and above all preserve it: justice and equality, servant leadership, being our brothers’ keepers,” she says.

In terms of the future of her business ventures, especially Kalagadi Manganese, and her own road ahead, she feels the future looks brighter than ever.

“We are currently winding down on the construction activities that are still left and readying ourselves for the ramping up of the production of the sintered product. I am very optimistic and believe that good things are still to come,” Mashile-Nkosi concludes. 

Michael Meiring 

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