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Leadership’s Ralph Staniforth sat down for a chat with three beacons of hope for women in the mining sector, with their discussions proving that when support is afforded to people by operations such as Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine, the results will bear fruit

Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine is a Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) producing mine located in Swartklip, Limpopo. The mine was acquired from Anglo American Platinum on 1 February 2018 by Siyanda Resources and the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Joint Venture.

With a mission of ‘creating shareholder value and to support the economy and development of the region’ alongside their ‘commitment to one another, to the business, and to the community and environment’, Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine prioritises the values of caring, respect, integrity, and safety, health, and environment.

Another priority for Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine is women empowerment. While it is well known that the industry in which the mine operates is male-dominated, the target now is to ensure that women are given an equal opportunity to show their skills and talents without limitations.

Leadership had the pleasure of chatting to three of Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine’s female employees who are making their mark in an environment which has for too long been an incredibly tough nut to crack for women.

Joan Matjuda–Geologist

Joan Matjuda has an intense love affair with geology and mining. Having started out as an exploration geologist, Matjuda knows all too well the dangers involved with working underground. However, she has never shied away from a challenge, continuously showing that she has earned the right to put her incredible knowledge, skill set, and curiosity to good use.

Matjuda has since worked her way up the ranks, moving into the operations side of the business five years ago, but her fascination with geology started long before that.

“When I was a little girl, I grew up in the villages. I would pick up different types of rocks and wonder how they came about. That led me to reading up on them. My parents were teachers, and they would buy us encyclopedias, so I went and looked inside and I saw this field of study called, ‘geology’. I told my parents that I needed to study that. Well, they wanted me to study towards a traditional career and become a doctor. I said no, I want to study geology—something they didn’t understand,” she reveals.

“In my second year of study, I realised there are actually a lot of majors to choose from, but the one thing that stood out for me was mining. The thought that I would one day go into the belly of the earth and actually see what is going on is what intrigued me the most. So, I went and studied geology. It was quite an interesting field and here I am today; I am in the mines and I get to see the real beauty that is housed underground.”

While she may excel at her job and be armed with the knowledge to ensure the smooth running of operations—as well as what she calls the “flexibility to adapt to environments and juggle challenges”—the reality is that it has not always been easy for her to stamp her authority on the industry.

The need to continually prove your worth as a woman is far from ideal, but self-belief is so important in these kinds of situations, which is something Matjuda has learned to master.

“The truth is, as a woman, you are not easily accepted. You have to continuously prove that you are capable. There is a lot of undermining that takes place, but I hold on and I push myself to say, ‘hang on, I do know what I am talking about’. I love proving myself right and when I am right, I rise up and say, ‘but I told you that this is the problem that you are going to encounter’,” she says.

“With time, obviously, you get accepted and then they know that they are dealing with a strong woman. The challenge is that males, traditionally, don’t like taking orders from women and when you are a woman, you have to hold your ground and give those instructions. If they do not take them, there will be consequences… and we don’t want greater consequences.”

Matjuda has proven time and again that passion, knowledge, hard work, and determination are the only factors which matter in her line of work.

To get to where she is today, she has been lucky enough to receive a great deal of support from Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine in pushing her to grasp every opportunity and force her way to the top.

And she hasn’t looked back since.

“Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine has supported me with my studies, accepted me into the mining industry, and given me a mentor to teach me all that I needed to learn as a geologist and what it takes to be a great leader. It has been a great journey for me to work for Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine. It is still a great journey to work for them, as we learn every day,” she explains.

“There is support for women. I see a lot of women are being put into leadership roles and I am quite happy to be one of those women standing at the forefront to show other women that it can be done, you can access a male-dominated field, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to showcase to the world that we do have women leaders out there.”

When asked about her advice for budding geologists, Matjuda took a very real stance on the sacrifices geologists need to make to create a sustainable career for themselves.

The reality is that it is not easy. Long hours, dangerous conditions, and separation from your loved ones are par for the course in geology, but Matjuda believes the rewards are worth it.

“Those who want to become geologists must set their goals so high that even they would be afraid of them. One never stops learning, so whatever you set your heart on, rest assured you will achieve it if you are determined. However, with geology being mostly field work, down in the mines, they need to be prepared for those harsh conditions. You need to be able to strike a balance between family and a career, but most of the time families do suffer because you are mostly out in the field, you are in the mine working long hours, so you miss the homework, the milestones, but it is possible if you strike a balance,” she concludes.

Patience Kalpens–Section Manager

Patience Kalpens started her journey in the mining industry in 2002 as a learner official, before moving up the ranks and honing her skills by studying for her BTech at the University of Johannesburg.

However, she admits that the early stages of her career were by no means easy, with the air of an ‘experiment’ weighing her down.

She explains: ”As a woman, it was difficult for them to acknowledge or appoint me at that time. I was more like an experiment as to whether women can do it. Will she stay in this career? As they were not really taking me seriously, I then went and studied again for my BCom degree. I have got two degrees—BTech and BCom—just so that I had something to fall back on, because women were not being taken seriously in mining at that time.”

Kalpens was determined to make a real success of herself in the mining sector, so she doubled down and gave it her all. It was this approach to her work which really started to catch the attention of those around her.

”Production wise, I was producing better results than my counterparts that were in the section with me. In 2012, I was appointed as a mine overseer and then in 2019 I was appointed as a section manager, where I am today. That’s the story of my rise despite the challenges I have faced,” she continues.

Despite the barriers she has had to overcome, Kalpens is grateful that she has risen to a position which can serve as an inspiration to others.

It is one thing to grow within your career, but it is another thing entirely to have to constantly prove your worth. That has been Kalpens’ journey, but it has been a journey well worth taking.

”I feel I have achieved something for other women, and I feel privileged to be where I am. Yes, the industry is male-dominated, and it can be difficult, but in life, if you know what you want, perseverance is very important. Yes, I had some setbacks, as some people did not want me to go forward, so I had to cut through barriers and push just to make sure that I get to where I want to get to,” she says with a sense of pride.

”I have achieved a lot, it was hard, it is not easy, but also what really helped me through it all is education. Education and experience are both crucial for this role because without that, you cannot move forward.”

While it is evident that Kalpens has risen up the ranks thanks to her own self-belief and determination, she does admit that working for Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine has been a blessing for her.

At Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine, Kalpens is able to be herself and carry out the work without constantly having to worry about whether she is being undermined or someone is judging her. Her ability to get the job done speaks for itself.

”Joining Siyanda was a very good move for me. I have learned to work independently, and Siyanda has entrusted me to play a role in decision making. An example of that is when I had to relieve my production manager and I had to run a shaft. I had just joined the company, so I had to learn very fast,” she explains.

”Siyanda has really helped me by trusting me into making the right decisions and making sure that I have all the resources I need to make sure that I optimise production. They didn’t say, ‘she’s a woman so let’s see what she can do’, they actually worked with me and made sure that I prosper. Siyanda has really encouraged me to make sure that I stay and I continue to prove myself, because they have given me that platform to develop and succeed.”

As more and more women look to make the mining sector their home, the need for support from those who have come before becomes even more important. As Kalpens has a plethora of experience within the sector, she is well versed to impart the knowledge any budding mining employee needs to hear.

That knowledge comes in the shape of lessons, which include:

  • Ensure you are prepared to listen to others in the industry;
  • Ensure you have the right qualifications and knowledge for the job at hand;
  • Ensure you get involved in all aspects of the job to make your mark;
  • Ensure you are constantly learning so as to improve in your job; and
  • Ensure you work with integrity and all your actions illustrate that.

”There is nothing scary about the mining industry if you condition yourself as to why you are here. You need to understand, personally, why you are here. If you understand that part, the other things will be fine. For me, there is no better job, so if you have all those skills, you will prosper in this industry,” she concludes.

Vhutshilo Mushiana–Safety and Sustainable Development Manager

Born and bred in Venda, Vhutshilo Mushiana holds an Environmental Sciences degree from the University of Venda, amongst various other qualifications.

The self-proclaimed “inspirational woman” has a long history in the mining game, working for some of the biggest players, before joining Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine two years ago.

As the Safety and Sustainable Development Manager of a mine as big as Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine, Vhutshilo has her hands full on a daily basis, but with her eagerness to impress and deep knowledge of the regulations at play, she has entrenched herself as a vital component of the team.

However, key to her current success at Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine, she says, is down to her ability to listen, understand, and communicate effectively with everyone she comes into contact with.

“As a woman, I think one thing that I have learnt over the years of my work experience is listening to people and learning as much as you can from them. I use my communication skills to inspire and motivate other employees. When I talk to employees, I try to understand what it is they are thinking, what their goals are, and then I effectively communicate to them so that we can gain an understanding from each and every employee up to the very top,” she says.

“I look and listen to what they say and communicate and collaborate with what they tell me. I believe that is a big part of my skill set.”

Nobody is able to move up in their career without a desire to grow in all facets of their work and life in general.

Vhutshilo says that a big part of her current standing is down to her ”growth mindset”, as “learning is a life-long journey”.

“I believe in my ability to develop new skills through learning. I am also adaptable to change. If there is change, I do what I can to be ready and implement what is needed for continual improvement of my portfolio or continual improvement of the organisation at large. I view challenges as an opportunity for growth and I am open to feedback, especially constructive criticism,” she avers.

Self-awareness, empathy, and respecting diversity are also key factors for Vhutshilo, as without them, she believes you will never be able to build strong relationships with the important role players in your life.

“Where I work, I have different people that I work with, different people that I engage with. I actively support and promote diversity activities and I respect individual differences. I believe in a creative and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute their unique perspective. I mark everyone as important as it doesn’t matter which colour you are or where you come from, I make them part of the team and make them feel important,” she adds.

With her experience and understanding of the human side of the workplace, Vhutshilo is well placed to offer advice to women looking to break barriers and prove to the world what they are capable of.

For this to happen, Vhutshilo believes that women need to ”challenge and defy gender stereotypes by excelling in your role and taking charge”, as this will show that you mean business and that you are ready to excel.

“You must not sit back and say that a man can do something when you are around. Take responsibility and ensure that you achieve your objective. I’m not saying you are achieving this because you are a woman, but rather that you are achieving this because it is the right thing to do,” Vhutshilo insists.

“Achieving success in a male-dominant industry may not just come on a platter, it has its own challenges and the important thing is to use that as an opportunity to drive positive change and pave the way for the future generations, who will embrace the strength that we have shown.”

While Vhutshilo is imparting solid advice that many need to hear right now, the reality is that without any support for women in the grand scheme of things, all good intentions will lead to nothing.

That’s why she believes it is a two-way street, with the right attitude mixed with a certain level of support vital in reaching the equality we all desire, as well as creating a sustainable environment for everyone to thrive in.

Thankfully, Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine plays a big role in this regard, which Vhutshilo expands on: ”At Siyanda we have structures in place where women are given the opportunity to be supported. I know that historically the mining industry has been predominantly male-dominant and women have faced various challenges, but I think, currently, with the regulations that we have and the support from the Department of Minerals and Energy, I must say that women are being given support.

“But we must also remember that women are very resilient and they are capable of adapting to various workplace difficulties. I would really like to inspire all young women in our country by saying they need to make themselves count and rise above their circumstances. They shouldn’t sit back and say it is not possible, that it cannot happen. They need to find themselves embarking on a quest to become nothing below our best standard, because I think as women we are the best and we have proven beyond reasonable doubt that we can lead with authority.”

On a personal level, Vhutshilo has big plans for the future.

While she may have already shown her importance to Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine since 2021, her desire to continually learn and push the boundaries of what she is capable of will no doubt mean big things are coming.

On what she hopes to achieve in the next five years, Vhutshilo concludes our chat by saying: “I want to grow in my career and take more responsibility within Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine. I am currently looking at our sustainable development, which is a dynamic and always changing environment. Currently, the focus is on what is happening globally, looking at the goals in leadership, at the climate change situation, and looking at ESG. Changes are always taking place, so there is always something new to look forward to learning about and as dynamic as it is, I think I am looking forward to growing internally.”

Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine: A place to thrive

It is clear to see from the chats with the three lovely ladies that Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine cares about their employees and the empowerment of the women under their roof.

We often hear of the horror stories in terms of how women are mistreated and overlooked in the world of work, but what is encouraging is that what we have here is an operation which sees the bigger picture. There is no hiding away from the realities of the working world or sweeping issues under the carpet.

Siyanda Bakgatla Platinum Mine’s support is noted and it is clear that through these three women, the operation’s future is bright and secure for generations to come.

Ralph Staniforth is the Production Editor for Leadership Magazine