Khumo Nnyenyiwa is a graduate of Mining Engineering from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, where she completed both her M.Sc. and Bachelor’s Degree in the same field. Additionally, Khumo also holds a postgraduate certificate in Enterprise Risk Management from Botswana Accountancy College in Botswana.
After achieving various academic awards, Khumo has been busy building a career in the mining industry. She has previously held positions with Anglo American and Debswana Diamond Company, and is currently working as Chief Mining Engineer at Marampa Mines Limited (“MML”), Gerald Group’s 90-percent owned iron ore subsidiary in Sierra Leone. Marampa Mines’ produces high-grade 65% iron ore concentrate, Marampa BlueTM, which is currently in high demand as the world’s iron and steel smelters seek to reduce their carbon footprint. MML is addressing and improving the status of women in-country by focusing on employing, training, and developing skills and job mobility of women. Since iron ore production and shipments restarted at Marampa in 2021, the number of jobs at the mine site has grown to 2,500 including contractors. Marampa Mines is keen to advance gender diversity beyond its current composition of women in the workforce, from ~12% at the beginning of 2022 to ~19% at the end of December 2022, which is above the industry’s average globally, and the Company aims to cross 30%.
A mining pioneer who never stops growing
Khumo’s extensive 14-year career spans a range of mining engineering disciplines and commodities, bringing to the fore her considerable technical insights from a production environment perspective and a deep understanding of the cyclical and volatile mining industry.
She has been instrumental in the planning and development of resource programmes and operational asset planning at a number of mining companies, and is currently responsible for the life of Mine Planning at Marampa Mines. With the continued expansion and ramping up of production in 2023 at Marampa, Khumo’s responsibilities include the setting up of new mining processes for the Mining Division. The role also entails capacity building for mining and MML’s geoscientists. Khumo is a firm believer in gender equality and diversity in the world and actively mentors young women and men to pursue opportunities in STEM industries.
‘Determination and Passion’ as the trigger to success
Khumo opines that all disciplines in the world are interrelated, so it is beneficial to have a basic if not a good understanding of developments and changes happening across the board, especially if a young woman wants to develop herself and her career. The world is forever evolving, consequently, one needs to continually ‘unlearn’ and ‘relearn.’ She believe this is something leaders must practice themselves because throughout the course of their careers, they need to gradually develop leadership skills, and focus on attending leadership courses and taking on the responsibility for self-improvement. This ‘reliance on self-development’ also means that Mining can be an occupation for everyone, although traditionally the sector is dominated by males. One does not always have to lead with an iron fist, being compassionate with good cognitive intelligence is a quality that leaders in the industry should possess, claims Khumo.
Khumo asks leaders to take a leap of faith in the sense that Mining is classified as a high-risk business and is typically seen as the domain of men. As a result, the majority of people tend to lead from the safe side given legislative, gender, and cultural norms which stand in the way of more women taking up career opportunities in Mining, and becoming a more valuable resource to the industry. Women naturally ‘work safe’ and are good problem-solvers. Increasingly however, they are choosing an education and pursuing careers in Metals and Mining as organisations have begun to address the challenges of building a more diverse workplace. Khumo continues to argue that diversity does not only mean increasing the number of women in any industry, it also requires empowering them to reap the full benefits of the initiative. “Always look for opportunities to add value or improve the process. This also includes making someone else’s life better than you found it. Khumo adds, “Pope Francis said to ‘use obstacles to open doors of intelligence’.”
Tackling the practical challenges head-on
Khumo recollects some of the challenges that she experienced early in her career, which in her view largely focused on self-imposed ideologies of how the industry should respond to her post-degree qualification. According to Khumo, she quickly learned that she needed to hang her degree on the wall and get her ‘boots dirty.’ This enabled her to learn rapidly from the others around her who were highly experienced and allowed her to grow within the organisation. Humility and a naturally unassuming nature also allowed her to easily win hearts and willingness of others to show her the way, since the majority of people who she was working with and leading were older and as such, this helped to narrow, even close the generational gap, making her job easier. Here are some of the major challenges that Khumo previously faced during her leadership journey:
Long shift hours: Khumo’s afternoon shift ended late at 11pm, and since her home was a little further away from the bus stop, she had to run in the dark to get home by 11:30pm. Overtime, she gained the courage to ask the bus driver to drop her outside her house, and while some would agree and others would not, it has taught Khumo about resilience and to never stop knocking on doors, as some open and others wouldn’t, but that is the circle of life.
Mentorship challenges: Due to the limited number of women in the mining industry 14 years ago, Khumo had to find her way in the field of mining with a limited compass, which led her to start to mentor upcoming young professional women across various disciplines.
Gender ideologies: This is still prevalent even today as Khumo has navigated working in different mining regions. People generally believe that the mining industry is physically too demanding and strenuous for women, especially when Mining is performed in a highly conventional way. It is the same perception that also hinders progress in terms of increasing the number of women in the industry.
Prominent Leaders Need a Broader Mindset
In today’s highly dynamic world and society, Khumo strongly believes that leaders should be open-minded, compassionate, and able to manage complexity.
In Tune with the Market Disruptions
Khumo often deploys the use of visuals in communicating messages to her team at work, and likes to use 3D technologies to portray and package her points, as she believes that people can easily relate to things when seen, which also enhances understanding and learning. In terms of leadership, she believes in being exemplary to the people that she leads.
Technology as the Benefactor
Disruptive technologies have introduced both simplicity and complexity to the way people lead, thus one needs to be flexible in order to see and learn the future and to a certain extent, unlearn the ‘past.’ Being dynamic to change, and at the same time, being routed in morals and principles.
To Infinity and Beyond
In Khumo’s opinion, the changing mining landscape is forcing companies to innovate faster and better and to introduce methodologies that are less harmful to the environment, more cost-effective, and inclusive. Technology and innovation are rising to the fore as mines are trying to become safer (driverless equipment, remote operations) and accessible, whilst also improving the lives of their host communities. Having worked in the mining industry, she notes that miners are also under strain with the ever-growing demands from their stakeholders.
Advice for Budding Women Leaders
Khumo states that it is daunting until you try, and an approach of ‘just do it’ combined with perseverance and resilience can help. Be courageous!
Quote: “The mining industry is forever evolving, thus encouraging us to do the same, to make a difference and to grow.”
– Khumo Nnyenyiwa, Chief Mining Engineer, Marampa Mines
Management: Khumo Nnyenyiwa, Chief Mining Engineer, Marampa Mines Limited