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Thabile Makgala, 39

Mining executive
Implats, eastern limb operation

Thabile Makgala is the mining executive of the eastern limb at Impala Platinum Holdings Limited (Implats). She has dedicated more than two decades of her life to the mining sector. She entered the industry in 2001 as an 18-year-old matriculant, and became one of the first female mining engineer graduates for the Gold Fields crew operations.

Makgala says that when she first began her career, there were very few women working in the industry. “When I started, I was wearing overalls and boots that were made for men. While it may seem like a small detail, it was a big problem.” She is proud of how far the industry has progressed: it now comprises more than 14% women and in 2021, the Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA) elected its first female president.

While much progress has been made when it comes to championing greater equity and inclusion, Makgala believes there is much work to be done in an industry still dominated by men. “The mining sector was created by men, for men. We cannot change the industry and talk about diversity, equity and inclusion and exclude the men from the conversation.”

She also stresses the importance of technology in furthering South Africa’s progress in the mining industry — she believes it is a great equaliser of opportunities. “In South Africa, people need to walk long distances to get to work. This reduces the amount of time that people can work, and it increases our cost. Without a doubt, for us to get to the forefront, we need to leverage technology and innovation. We need to work smarter. Now, we have an ageing workforce and a new generation that wants to do things differently.”

Makgala attributes many of the challenges women face to an unconscious bias. “When people in positions of power see you based on your gender, colour, [or] physical abilities, it’s very limiting. Leaders have a responsibility to not only say they will hire for diversity — but [to] follow through.”

According to Makgala, true equity and representation within mining is not a box-ticking exercise. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about making the numbers count. It’s about making sure that the people who are in the system are contributing actively and earnestly towards inclusive work. “While it starts with leadership, we need to be deliberate about the kinds of interventions that we are doing, so that when Thabile is put there as the executive, she is a fit for purpose.”

Thanks to Makgala’s ambition and passion for change, the future’s looking good. As part of the leadership team of MCSA, she has played an integral role in setting the strategy for 30% female representation by 2025. She is also part of the Woman in Mining task team to make sure that these strategies are effective. As a true leader, her drive, experience and mining footprint is a call to action to pay attention to the power of women.

The mining sector was created by men, for men. We cannot change the industry and talk about diversity, equity and inclusion and exclude the men from the conversation.

Author - Loren Shapiro
Tracy Brander, 51

Tracy Brander, 51

Brander currently sits on the board of Silverback Drills, a borehole drilling equipment supply company. Starting out as a business analyst, she realised that she would rather be “putting on a pair of safety boots” and working in an environment where she can see the results of her work in a finished product.

“I have always enjoyed working in a challenging environment where great and big machines are built from smaller fabrication components; it is still inspiring to see the final product commissioned.”

Mechanical and industrial engineering is still largely a male-dominated industry, and Brander has often had to fight to be heard and acknowledged. “Working with management teams at design level on a number of different scope drill rigs, my ideas and suggestions have at times been challenged and rejected at inception level. These ideas would then go on to be incorporated in the final product with the frontline engineers getting recognition as the ‘guys who got the job done’. I believe my input was often overlooked being a female in the team.”

Brander believes “a proactive and collective effort by company leadership” is required in order to “challenge the existing stereotypes faced by women every day and make a mindful shift towards the culture of inclusion”.
However, more and more women are being elevated to executive positions. “I believe female leadership styles foster a more supportive and nurturing environment.”

She has been described as “a truly dedicated humanitarian”. Brander says that her greatest satisfaction is seeing a successful water strike. “I have seen many a mother or young woman’s daily struggle when walking for kilometers to fetch safe drinking water for their families.” Many of us take access to water for granted. To see men, women and children — who have suffered terribly from a lack of water — finally collecting water from a well point is humbling, and the knowledge that one of her drilling rigs have alleviated this suffering touches her deeply.

#onedrillrigatatime is an initiative that was established a year ago by Brander and involves both the drilling industry and local community businesses in various regions of Africa. For every drill rig sold, one borehole is donated to a village or community in need of safe drinking water.
Brander’s latest project is the development of fully autonomous operating systems for their drilling machines, which will ensure a safer and more efficient working environment. She is excited by the prospect of her son joining her in the business and continuing her vision of providing clean and safe drinking water to all who need it.

It is likely that one day you will find Brander in her safety boots, out in the field ensuring that her legacy endures. “I will always continue to do my part,” she says.

Tracy Brander is not afraid of getting her hands dirty. In fact, she would rather be in the field than in the boardroom, drilling for water in an effort to bring safe drinking water and sanitation to all who need it.

Geralda Wildschutt, 52

Geralda Wildschutt, 52

While studying for her first degree, Geralda Wildshutt was awarded a teaching scholarship and used this as a way to enter the field. She spent five years as a teacher before resigning to complete her master’s in educational and community psychology.

She followed this up a few years later with an MBA in strategic, financial, project and operations management from the Business School Netherlands. Wildschutt worked as a community psychologist on the Cape Flats. Based in Manenberg, where gang violence is pervasive, she spent most of her time helping young girls who were survivors of gender-based violence and providing support for boys caught in hostilities.

After eight years, Wildschutt took the skills she learnt through her experiences as a psychologist and transferred them to the mining industry. Here, she continued to advise on community management, specialising in ESG (environmental, social and governance) and sustainability management. She says the heart of her work is helping mining companies through community development.

“In mining, before you can take the stuff out of the ground, you’ve got to manage the situation above ground.”
According to Wildschutt, being a woman in the mining industry is something one has to get used to. From worker level up to management executive level, the mining industry is by its nature populated mostly by men. “You’ve got to become used to being the only woman in a room full of men.” As a woman, you have to work twice as hard, be twice as competent, know twice as much and have a very tough skin.

Wildschutt perseveres because, as she says, when she gets it right, it is the most rewarding work. “I want mining companies to do right by the communities. People greatly underestimate or are not aware of how much the mining industry does for social development in South Africa.”
All of Wildschutt’s projects are important to her, however, food security is particularly close to her heart. She enjoys working on subsistence farmer support programmes, school vegetable gardens and educational programmes. One partnership she advised on is WEZA, an NGO that works with schools on gardening, but links the garden work to the CAPS curriculum. “Often the person who thinks you are not capable is yourself.”

Wildschutt has had people inspire and guide her throughout her career, but it is her “network of women” that has been her support for the past 16 years. “Having a support group of career women is very helpful,” she says. “If we don’t have peers who understand and support us, the road is much harder.”

Wildschutt says she is never going to retire. She is tapping into psychology skills again as she grows her mentoring work, offering individual and group mentoring programmes for young women. She sits on three NGO boards and will continue her advisory work and volunteering within the this sector.

Geralda Wildshutt has always wanted to work in the field of social change and knew early on she wanted to become a psychologist.