Women stand tall at Mining Indaba

6 February 2013

Susan Shabangu, South Africa’s minister of mineral resources, chose to highlight the role of women in the mining industry in her keynote address at the 2013 Investing in African Mining Indaba, currently under way in Cape Town.

“Nothing is impossible for women,” she said on Tuesday. “We are here – we don’t need favours.”

Shabangu paid tribute to Cynthia Carroll, the outgoing chief executive of Anglo American, saying she had been “an inspiration to women everywhere”.

Acknowledging the need to develop skills and improve training in South African mining, Shabangu said she had been encouraged by the “substantial increase” in the number of students enrolling for engineering qualifications. Female enrolment had doubled since 1996.

“This suggests that the base skill requirements for the sustainability of the industry are being built, but these skills must be nurtured and protected.”

Susan Shabangu: standing for women

Shabangu has been minister of mineral resources since 2009. Soon after leaving school, she became involved in politics, working as an activist and freedom fighter.

She served as deputy minister of minerals and energy between 1996 and 2004. She spent the next five years as deputy minister of safety and security, before being appointed minister of mineral resources in 2009.

She is a member of the national executive council of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, and has repeatedly rejected the policy of nationalisation. In her Indaba address, she reiterated: “Nationalisation is not a policy of the ANC or the government” and that it would not be helpful or necessary to resuscitate the debate.

Shabangu, Carroll and Bridgette Radebe are three women standing tall in an industry that has been dominated by men for centuries.

Cynthia Carroll: Anglo’s first woman CEO

Carroll is stepping down from her job as the head of Anglo American, one of the world’s biggest mining companies, in April. She was ranked as the 55th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine in 2012.

An American, she is the first Anglo “outsider” – and the first woman – to reach the top. She is also the chairperson of Anglo Platinum.

With a masters degree in geology as well as an MBA, Carroll started working as a geologist in North America in the early 1980s. She swiftly moved into management, taking up her first CEO post in 2002 with Canadian mining company, Alcan.

In her keynote address at the Mining Indaba on Tuesday, Carroll said she remained passionate about South Africa and about mining, which was so critical to South Africa’s prosperity.

Carroll quoted figures that show that mining directly contributed 9.2% of South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), and helped to generate 18.7% of GDP in 2011. Around 13.5-million South Africans are dependent on mining-generated jobs.

Acknowledging that “mining is an industry in crisis”, Carroll identified what she called “four truths” she believes are necessary for South Africa to face if it is to progress:

  • There is no future without law and order: public order is the bedrock without which civilisation collapses.
  • Anarchy benefits no one: the rule of law is as important in the workplace as it is in every other aspect of society.
  • No one can defy economic reality: the need to be competitive is as applicable to countries as it is to companies.
  • No country is an economic island: South Africa will only succeed if it fosters an environment that is conducive to business and attractive to international investors.

Carroll’s resignation leaves only two female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies. She told the Guardian in October last year that she was against quotas: “You can’t … appoint women just to appoint women, just to satisfy a particular condition. What you want more than anything is to develop women in the organisation who will, when they get to the top, be fully capable of delivering and doing the job effectively.”

Bridgette Radebe: champion of junior miners

Another high-profile pioneer in the industry is Bridgette Radebe, who started her career as a miner. Radebe now owns her own mining company, Mmakau Mining, and is a vocal champion for the rights of junior and emerging miners.

Radebe was the first black South African deep-level hard rock mining entrepreneur in the 1980s. Her upbringing groomed her not only for entrepreneurship, but also for activism. In 1976 she joined a march on a mine to demand her family’s royalty payments for mineral rights leased to a Canadian mining company.

She defied legislation which prohibited women from working as miners or owning mining rights and worked to build her career as a miner, and her company, Mmakau Mining, which has interests in platinum, coal and chrome. She is now one of Africa’s richest women.

As president of the South African Mining Development Agency, Radebe represents the interests of junior and emerging miners. She is a founder and director of the New African Mining Fund, which has raised millions for the junior mining sector.

At a panel discussion hosted by Brand South Africa on the eve of this year’s Mining Indaba in Cape Town, Radebe said it was essential that legislation be more strongly implemented if it was to give meaning to transformation. It was time that investors “comply with the rules of the game”.

She said that her research had shown that only 2.7% of South Africa’s mining wealth is black-owned.

Radebe was part of the team that drew up the Minerals and Petroleum Development Bill, and she was key in developing the Empowerment Mining Charter, along with the government, business and unions.

SAinfo reporter