AS a young girl, Barcelona Plaatjies (Tsauses) was fascinated by science-related subjects, to a point that she vowed to pursue a career in sciences. After attaining her Bachelor of Technology Degree in Chemical Engineering from South Africa, Barcelona worked for several mining companies before she ended up as Director of Operations at Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb (DPMT).
Barcelona has over 10 years of working experience in various commodities such as zinc and uranium processing as well as copper smelting. She has designed and commissioned various plant units throughout her career, including the state-of-the-art Sulphuric Acid Plant at DPMT.
She granted Confidente’s Marianne Nghidengwa (MN) an interview in which she spoke at length about her career as well as her love for spending quality time with her loved ones.
MN: Briefly tell us about yourself.
BP: I was born in Tsumeb but spent most of my life growing up in Oranjemund as my father worked for Namdeb. I further attended most of my schooling in Swakopmund where I matriculated.
I was always fascinated by mathematics and science in school and knew that I’d like to pursue a career linked to a science field.
My father always asked me what I’d like to become from a very young age and that always got me thinking about my greater purpose in life. My father always said, ‘there’s nothing that beats hard work’.
My fascination drove me to participate in yearly science fairs held in Windhoek and was once awarded first prize for a project I did. I took part in maths olympiads and enjoyed challenging myself as a young scholar, which enabled me to truly understand my potential.
The era I grew up in always emphasised the importance of the science field for future success and that’s what I focused on.
MN: What triggered your interest in mining?
BP: I grew up in a mining town in the southern part of Namibia called Oranjemund and saw the impact of mining on the community of the town and the economy of our country. It gave the entire town life and enabled children to have access to good, quality education.
This fascinated me and I knew that a career in engineering will enable me to continue adding value to Namibia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and enable me to touch many lives through social investments. I knew I could make a big difference in our country by pursuing a career in engineering. My love for science and being a young scientist enabled me to select a career in chemical engineering.
MN: Tell us about your education and early career in mining?
BP: I was awarded a bursary by Skorpion Zinc Mine to complete a degree in chemical engineering.
I have successfully completed my Bachelor of Technology Degree in Chemical Engineering from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I have over 10 years of working experience in various commodities, such as zinc processing (Skorpion Zinc Mine), uranium processing (Langer Heinrich Mine) and copper smelting (Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb). This brings a combined experience of hydro-metallurgy and pyro-metallurgy.
I was awarded an outstanding achievement for the design and commissioning of a project at a young achiever’s award ceremony called the JIMEC at Anglo American in 2009, in which all young engineers globally from Anglo American competed.
I have extensive experience in the design, commissioning and successful management of various plant units.
A skill to be able to start a plant from scratch is something that is of great value, especially to a country like Namibia which is primarily dependent on external consultants to execute this type of work, and therefore,I feel extremely proud to have started a few plants from scratch in my career and successfully bring them to produce optimally.
I have designed and commissioned various plant units across my career, including the state-of-the-art Sulphuric Acid Plant at Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb. I set up the operational readiness programme, including an operating budget for the Sulphuric Acid Plant and recruited the employees that are today operating the plant successfully. I am currently the Director of Operations at Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb since 2016.
I see myself moving into a Managing Director role in the future.
I am also one of the founding members of the Women in Mining Association of Namibia (WIMAN) and serve on the executive committee as Human Capital Manager.
The aim of WIMAN is to attract more females to the mining sector and to create successful careers in the sector by unleashing their potential.
MN: How does it feel managing operations that form part of a global firm?
BP: After obtaining my degree in chemical engineering, I’ve always gone for more challenging w o r k opportunities in order to grow and develop the skills that I had set myself out to achieve. This required me to step out of my comfort zone until I became a Director of Operations, managing the operations of Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to make a difference in the workplace and even more wonderful to be able to create platforms through WIMAN for women to be acknowledged as important role players in the mining industry.
I’m proud to say that our executive team at Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb has three women under the leadership of our MD and Vice President, Zebra Kasete.
This is a tremendously encouraging trend for many women out there.
MN: How has Dundee Precious Metals expanded its operations under your guidance?
BP: Dundee Precious Metals has invested in major capital improvement projects which I have been a part of designing and spent time commissioning the units.
I worked on the emission and dust capture project, including new baghouses and hygiene systems. I also had the privilege of designing a pneumatic transfer system for Dundee after joining the company, as the initially installed unit wasn’t yielding the desired results and therefore I headed the design, fabrication and commissioning of the new system.
I was further involved in a state-of-the-art sulphuric acid plant with a huge footprint, as it includes gas cleaning and effluent treatment plants and two new Pierce Smith Converters to process matte into blister copper.
In 2015, the first acid train left Dundee Precious Metals T s u m e b after the commissioning of the Sulphuric Acid Plant and His Excellency, President Hage Geingob, inaugurated the Sulphuric Acid Plant in 2016.
MN: What are some of the challenges the smelter faces in terms of its operations?
BP: The Tsumeb smelter was built in 1962. This means that the smelter is more than 60 years old. Most facilities that age need a lot of improvements to get them operating optimally. It’s also important to upskill the workforce with the changed technologies that are being introduced at the smelter. Guiding change is the challenge that most leaders face today, due to the ever growing digital world. We have made huge improvements since acquiring the smelter in 2010 and are still busy transforming the smelter into a world class facility.
MN: What advice do you have for young girl’s keen on taking up studies and careers in mining?
BP: Success is not accidental. It requires hard work, dedication and perseverance to turn goals into reality. There’s nothing that beats hard work that’s focused on the right objectives. Be confident in yourself, your worth as a woman and your ability to execute your work successfully. The most important lesson along the path to success is to love and respect yourself and to be kind to yourself. You will make some mistakes, however being kind to yourself will allow you to recover and reach greater success. The key to obtaining success is to be conscious about your strengths and weaknesses and to accept help and support from others in areas of weakness ,while trying to grow such areas.
Success will never lower its standards to accommodate you. You’ll have to raise your standards to achieve it.
Rise up to the challenge above you and conquer your fears.
Mentorship is something that I personally benefit from throughout my career. I continuously learn a lot from those around me, in order to grow.
We have many potential leaders amongst our youth. All they need is successful mentorship, in order to unleash their true potential. That can only happen if we as women network, coach and provide mentorship in order to develop successful leaders. Namibia’s future is dependent on its youth. Namibia needs a lot of skilled people to uplift its economy and I’d like to see more women rising up to that challenge.
Challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.
Therefore pursue your dreams and push yourself to obtain them.
MN: Just what do you do for a little fun?
BP: I like spending quality time with my family doing different activities, travelling and trying out different cuisine. I like going to the gym as it sustains my energy levels.
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