Sisters set the pace at Lonmin mines

Sisters set the pace at Lonmin mines

Date: January 1, 1970
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Move over brothers, the sisters are taking charge! A little over a decade ago South Africa lifted the ban on women working underground. The Lonmin Platinum Mine in Rustenburg has employed 800 women who work underground in different fields. The mine plans to reach the 10 percent target for women set by the Mining Charter by 2010.

Zinzi Mdludlu (30) who hails from Mount Frere, Eastern Cape has been working for Lonmin for a year now. A recruitment specialist with seven years experience she joined the mine to show that women can be miners. 
Her sister was the first black female geologist in South Africa. She sees mining as a great opportunity for women, especially young black females. “This job has given me recognition. I was promoted in the first ten months,” she said. Mdlulu is now a senior recruitment consultant.
It’s all part of a big culture change in mining, the bedrock of the South African economy; also one of the least friendly professions for women.
“The culture is not yet conducive for women to work underground. The temperatures are too high and you find half naked men there,” said Bernard Mokwena, Vice President (External Affairs) of Lonmin mine.
By December this year all shafts will, for the first time, have female change rooms underground. “Heat is still a challenge to our female miners.  Remarks are also passed at them, some men still hold the belief that the mine will collapse because females are now working underground.  This is a myth that existed long ago,” Mdlulu commented.
Women miners, she says, are still not seen and taken as colleagues by their male counterparts:  “You won’t believe that even though I’m senior to them they still say ‘dudlu’ when ever I go past. I don’t take offence cause I know and understand where they come from.” 
Mokwena notes that transformation involves a major re-education of the male miners, many of whom come from rural areas where a women’s role is seen as bearing and rearing children. The men are taught not to sexually harass or abuse female miners. 
Underground managers pose a further challenge. One black manager at the processing plant refused to have female miners in his team, saying that women react to platinum. 
Godfrey Tshubyane (37) is a Corporate Communication Consultant at the mine.  He grew up in a village in Rustenburg that was surrounded by mines.  He also worked for Impala mine in Rustenburg for one year before joining Lonmin mines.  “Though I was at first shocked to see women working underground on their own with no male supervision, I saw that these women were getting somewhere,” Tshubyane reflects.
Minah Yaleyozo (31), a communication consultant with 11 years working experience notes that in future it will be good to see women lead teams of men. The mine does school visits to promote mining as career. Students are also offered bursaries and scholarships by the mine’s Development Trust; which is headed by a woman.  
The 2040 Charter developed by the community and the mine paints a picture of what the future might look like: “We are a united Rainbow community with a rich cultural heritage working together to build a vital sustainable future.  We declare ourselves to be bold visionary leaders of transformation, accountable for creating vibrant, safe communities.  We stand for an educated, prosperous, just and healthy society.” 
Purity Zamagugu Zwane is a communication lecturer at North-West University and Malose Frans Ledwaba is the station manager for Greater Lebowakgomo Community Radio. This article, produced during a GL “Business Unusual” training workshop, is part of a South Africa Women’s Day series from the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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