… And her passion to see women rise in the industry
AS the mining field works hard to fill increasing shortages in the workplace, with women, the recently established Women in Mining Association Namibia (WiMAN) is dedicated to promoting and progressing the development of women in the mining and processing sector.
The association seeks to create an empowering network that will inspire, support and develop the advancement of women working in the industry, through providing access to education, skills development, mentorship and representation.
In an interview with Confidente’s Marianne Nghidengwa (MN), the association’s president Zenzi Awases (ZA), who doubles as a senior project geologist at Debmarine Namibia, spoke in detail about women taking their rightful place in the industry, through WiMAN, and challenges facing women in the field.
MN: Give us a snapshot of who you are?
ZA: My name is Zenzi Natasha Mûbasen Awases. I am a mother to an eight-year-old son, Raegan, and a six-year-old daughter, Malaika. I am the daughter of Alwine Awases and the late Milner Mokganedi Tlhabanello and a sister to Lesley, Valerie, Tiro, Mpho, Moko, Tangeni, Mokganedi and Gabriella. I am also an aunt, cousin and niece, under an umbrella of a loving and protective family, and a friend to many. I am also a geologist by profession, an aspiring writer and a self-proclaimed coffee snob.
MN: Briefly tell us about your upbringing and education, and whether that played a role in who you are today?
ZA: I was born in Otjiwarongo. My earliest childhood memory is of growing up at the Martin Luther High School, where my mother was the school secretary. My father died when I was nine years old and I was since raised in a single mother household. I was partly raised by my aunt, Christophine Maletzkÿ, and her late husband, in Arandis.
I received my primary school education predominantly at the Rössing Primary School in Arandis. When we heard that the Deutsche Höhere Privatschule (DHPS) was offering a scholarship to their school, I decided to take a chance, and applied. I wrote the entrance exam and obtained a scholarship to DHPS. I completed my Grade 12 at Centaurus High School.
I took a two-year ‘gap year’ and enrolled for a Bachelor of Science Degree at the University of Namibia (Unam), with the aim of majoring in chemistry and biology. I took geology as a subject and really took a liking to the course. We were, however, informed that the course wouldn’t be continued, due to lack of funds, so most of us found ourselves going to continue the course in South Africa. I obtained my BTech in Geology from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria and later my BSc (Honours) in Geology from Stellenbosch University. I am currently a candidate for a post-graduate diploma in Business Management and Administration at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
MN: What triggered your interest in geology? Also, as senior geologist at Debmarine Namibia, what does your job entail?
ZA: I always say that I became a geologist by accident. Truth be told, it is such an ‘unZenzi-like’ profession. I have always wanted to become a lawyer. But due to lack of funds, I could not enrol for law. I also knew that a degree was my only way to realise my ideal life. For my generation, there was no other option but to study after high school.
My interest in the field really was sparked in my second year in Pretoria, when we did a field trip to Barberton, Mpumalanga, where we saw remnants of the oldest rocks in the world. I was, however, fascinated but not sold. I wanted to know more. Then I discovered in my economic geology class that geology is pretty much the backbone of everything. If we did not, for example, know the properties of sand, we wouldn’t have glass. The minerals we find are necessary and used in pretty much anything we use in our day-to-day life. I wrote an email to Melissa Shanjengange (then the Training and Development Manager at Namdeb) and requested to shadow a geologist during the June vacation. Melissa agreed and put me in touch with Namdeb’s exploration manager, and I shadowed an exploration geologist for two weeks. That is when I was sold on the profession, as well as the industry. I knew then that I wanted to be an exploration geologist.
As the senior exploration geologist at Debmarine Namibia, I form part of a team responsible for finding the mineral resources for the company (in layman’s language – we find the area on the mine where the diamonds are). We advise on where we need to sample, to meet the production targets set by the company. Through sampling, we can advise on the expected grade of the mineral resource (how many diamonds can be expected per square metre) and what the size of the diamonds are. One of the things I take pride in is when an area I have sampled is eventually profitably mined.
MN: Tell us about the establishment of WiMAN?
ZA: In April 2017 we attended the first Leadership Development Conference for the Namibian Women in Mining. The conference was spearheaded by the Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy, Honourable Kornelia Shilunga.
We always knew that there were women in the industry, but it was the first time that we got together under one roof and networked. It was then that we realised that we have a lot in common. Although the industry welcomed females to enter the technical fields, most females are still employed in administrative roles. It has not been easy for the females in the industry, and we are still marginalised .Women in leadership and management roles within the industry are far and few in-between; certainly, not because we lack ambition, drive or skill, but because of a lack of foresight, recognition and transformation from industry leaders.
We realised we needed to do something. The concept of WiMAN was born at this conference. Each mining house represented at the conference had representation, out of which the executive committee was established. The executive committee comprises of Charlot Williams, Cindy Andrews, Barcelona Plaatjies, Foibe Uahengo, Nora Ndopu and Sheron Kaviua. The main objective of the executive committee was to establish WiMAN.
We have been meeting since end of April, agreeing on the main objectives of the association, the constitution for WiMAN, the name of the association, as well as getting us registered as a non-profit legal entity, amongst others. We launched the association on 10 November 2017.
MN: How did the industry react to the establishment of the association and what it stands for?
ZA: We have received a mixed reaction. While mostly positive, we had some negative reaction as well. Some thought we are one or the other feminist group. We are part of this industry and passionate about our careers and take great pride in it. We therefore want to help to make a difference. We are not demanding gender diversity (it’s there already) – our focus is on gender inclusion.
MN: What are the challenges and opportunities facing women already in the industry?
ZA: We are faced with tangible issues, such as salary gaps, lack of mentorship and networking, lack of female role models and lack of clear career paths. We are also faced with intangible (which can be harder to tackle) issues, such as work/life challenges, a perceived lack of skills/experience and gender stereotyping. Only a few women who enter the industry make it past the supervisory/middle-management level, especially in technical roles.
The opportunities lie in the fact that the Minister of Mines and Energy, Honourable Obeth Kandjoze, is in full support of gender inclusion in the industry. Honourable Kandjoze has been quite vocal about it and has expressed his desire to see more women in executive roles in the industry. The industry is waking up to the importance of our contribution, as can be seen by the inclusion of women in some of the mining houses. We need to grab this opportunity with everything and make our presence felt. We need to believe in ourselves and our abilities, as well as break free from self-imposed (to a certain extent) limitations, and aim high.
MN: What do you believe prevents girls from entering the field and what can be done?
ZA: In my opinion, not many girls know about the opportunities in the industry. There are also not enough female role models. We need to encourage more young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) related studies. We also need to encourage the mining houses to celebrate and showcase female role models.
MN: What will WiMAN do to retain women already in the industry, attract young girls to the field and ensure they are valued on merit?
ZA: Attracting and retaining more women in the mining industry will require us to drive a widespread change from yesterday’s mining industry, to tomorrow’s mining industry, which will be a more gender-inclusive industry.
Rather than a ‘quick fix’, we will require a systematic change in our organisations to become gender-inclusive. A paradigm shift is required, a mindset shift is required, a perception shift is required, by not just those in decision-making authority, but also from us as women.
It will require more than the isolated efforts of individual mining houses. WiMAN will form part of a combination of collaborative solutions, which will drive this change from encouraging young girls to pursue STEM-related studies, to creating awareness about the need for gender-inclusion in the industry. We have a number of programs and events planned.
MN: From your experience, what personal advice do you have for young girls aspiring to take up studies in mining?
ZA: Research the industry shows that it’s not as daunting as it seems. With the right attitude and passion, it can be the most rewarding career.
MN: What do you do for a little fun?
ZA: Besides my love for writing, cooking and trying out new recipes, what I really enjoy the most is to dance. I love to dance, whether it is jamming on full blast with my children and family, at any given moment, or whether it is during worship on a Sunday or during my quiet time.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015