South African women in mining have gradually become formal members of the mining fraternity, starting from 1996, when the South African government denounced the International Labour Organization convention of 1935 which prohibited employment of women in underground mining work.
Although women held positions in above-ground roles, owing to their gender they faced numerous challenges in the male-dominated industry.
With the introduction of the Mining Charter in 2002 and with legislation requiring mining companies to at least have a 10% increase to 48% representation by women in mining, companies across the sector started redressing their modus operandi and creating opportunities for women.
Despite having been integrated into the industry for over 20 years, women still face far greater challenges than their male counterparts and still have to fight for equal opportunities in the workplace.
This is according to mining logistics solutions provider Mixcorp Tutuka Power Station terminal manager Tintswalo Mukansi and Mixcorp commercial and compliance manager Refilwe Mkhize.
“It has always been that women in high positions are seen as not deserving compared to our male equivalents. You spend your entire career proving that you are worthy of your position, not only to male colleagues but to the entire industry. Meanwhile, you have to deal with career crippling injustices such as the lack of mentoring and career development opportunities, sexual harassment and the struggle to balance work and family time, a challenge for working mothers irrespective of industry,” says Mukansi.
More women are slowly joining male-dominated workforces and changing the narrative of mining being reserved for men – a leap that has brought a significant change for the futures of female youth.
Mixcorp has, since its inception, championed women’s inclusion in the industry, giving women opportunities in driving the organisation to play a larger role in the logistics and mining spaces.
“However, the reception of us being part of the workforce is still not at the level where it should be,” says Mkhize. She notes that mining companies need to provide equal opportunities for women, especially female youth by introducing inclusive programmes for tertiary leaving students and providing internships that can shape the future of women in mining.
“It is one thing to have a women's league in mining to acknowledge and support women already in the industry, however, to spark interest for the youth and tertiary students or graduates we must give women exposure and appoint them in leadership positions,” she adds.
Boasting over 19 years of experience with heavy haul companies (including Transnet) transporting goods throughout South Africa and crossborder (within the Southern African Development Community region), Mkhize believes she is ‘the change she wants to see’ in the industry and calls on all women who aspire to join any male-dominated industries to do so with determination.
“Always remember that the difference starts with you – as a woman, if you want to exert change or see the change, you need to be that change first,” she affirms.
Further, Mukansi highlights that women today are very independent, have strong will power, are competitive, and with such an attitude and aptitude for mining and engineering no door should be shut in their faces simply because they are perceived to be the weaker gender.
“Organisations from different mining sectors should be given opportunities to be part of our schooling programmes and use their aptitude and skills to guide our youth towards career opportunities within this industry. There is a lot we all can gain by including young women in this industry, as they exhibit fresh, modern ideas,” concludes Mukansi.