by Tamara Toti

Mining for a better tomorrow today

Dyrex digging deep to change the face of mining

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Nomvuyo Ketiso is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the mining industry, having worked her way up from being a general worker to now being the Director of a mining company she has shown that anything is possible. Passionate about mining, breaking boundaries and giving back to the community this young woman shies away from no challenge, and believes to become the best that one can be, you must have the courage to go after your dreams. Excited and motivated by productivity and results the future of Dyrex with Ketiso at the helm definitely looks bright.

How it all began

Ketiso’s passion for mining started at a very young age in the small mining village of Malta Coal where she grew up exposed to the mining way of life. Her father was a mineworker and she too worked in the same mine for two years as a general worker operating the conveyor belt underground, before leaving in 2007 to start her first business. It was during another business venture in 2012 that she met the former Director of Dyrex who invited her to join the company and help her grow it. “It was only natural that I return to mining, it was an industry that I was familiar with. I grew up in it, worked in it and I was passionate about it,” shares Ketiso.

Without any formal qualification or training in business Ketiso took the leap of faith in 2012 and never looked back. “Had it not been for my father’s teachings I doubt that I would have had the same courage to take the leap that would change my life forever. He was a great mentor, he built my character and pushed me to become the person that I am today.”

Starting out as an assistant at Dyrex Ketiso learned quickly and was determined to co-lead the company to success with her former partner. Little did she know that opportunity would come sooner rather than later when she would be named the sole Director of Dyrex in 2016.

The Dyrex journey

True to its slogan Dyrex’s road to success is always under construction, from 2012 to present day Dyrex has enjoyed a multitude of successes through carefully planned strategies and a diverse service offering. The company deals mainly with the following underground and surface work; cleaning, sweeping, travelling road maintenance, extensions, levelling, lining, splicing and the sealing of surface boreholes. In the area of sand dust barriers, they specialize in moving, new installation and maintenance.

A few years ago, when Dyrex was starting out it in the industry it had no assets, the company now can proudly say that it has managed to accumulate assets to the value of approximately R 1million. Another great achievement has been the increase of their staff complement, the company initially started with only six employees, but the number has since grown to boast a staff complement of over a hundred people of mixed gender, age and cultural background. “We have come a long way as Dyrex, at the time that I joined we were being contracted by Anglo American for our ventilation services, the relationship we had with them was seven years strong, they helped us build a solid foundation which gave us the confidence to go out and look for greater opportunities in 2014. Through that experience we grew so much that Exxaro saw our potential and awarded us a contract, today we are on a 24/7 contract with them. Being awarded that contract was really an honour for us,” Ketiso proudly shares.

Pleased with the progress that the company has made thus far Ketiso has plans to expand Dyrex’s reach even further. The business vision she has for the company is one that is purposeful, positive and effective. It is translated through the job opportunities that are created by the company, the programmes and projects that they launch within the community which all serve an area close to her heart, skills development and the upskilling of youth. “I want people to benefit from the existence of Dyrex. The results that we have produced from the skills development we have done up until now have been remarkable and this motivates me to fight to do more,” she says.

Another highlight and great learning opportunity for the company has been working with some of the biggest mining houses in South Africa, these being namely Anglo American and Exxaro. Both these have played a huge role in the growth and development of Dyrex, these have enabled them to build a sustainable business.

The relationship between Dyrex and Exxaro is a relatively new one, having started in 2016 with about two years under its belt the experiences that the two have shared have been so valuable. “Working with Exxaro has been a really phenomenal experience,” Ketiso says excitedly. “Through working with Exxaro we have had the opportunity to really experience the true meaning of empowerment – what it means, what it does and what it accomplishes.” Ketiso goes on to share more about what they have learnt as a company, “The Exxaro management team models their company values and lives by their principles so well that you as a contractor automatically want to reciprocate the same. As a growing company they teach and inspire you to be the best that you can be by instilling in you a spirit of commitment, integrity and good values.”

The benefits of this relationship Ketiso highlights are not limited to what she has mentioned but are far reaching. Exxaro has allowed them the opportunity of being a part of their vision and also drive Dyrex’s own vision through the relationship that they have. Not only is Dyrex contributing to the South African economy Exxaro has also given them the opportunity to give back to the community by allowing Ketiso to go back to Matla Coal where it all started for her. Through Exxaro she has been able to empower her community with much-needed economic resources, skills development and dignity. She is really thankful to have formed such a strong and fruitful relationship that they share synergies with that delivering becomes second nature to them.

Leading from the front

Being placed in a leadership position comes with great responsibility others instinctively look to you as the person who will give direction and guidance, you will be called upon to make the final call on important life-changing business decisions in the hopes that they benefit the entire company and its people. Recalling her first few months as the sole director of Dyrex, Ketiso remembers how quickly she had to adjust and adapt to not having a partner to lean on during the decision-making process. “Indeed, this shift scared me at first. I had to quickly grow confidence in my decision-making abilities so that confidence would be instilled in our partners and my team.” She goes on to mention that one must have what she terms a courageous character, Ketiso believes that one cannot venture into business without this even more so when going into mining. Mining is a tough industry filled with a number of challenges especially if you are woman trying to build a strong position for yourself within the industry. She further explains, “The courageous character will be the one that allows you to confidently step into boardrooms filled with men and stand your ground. Unfortunately, mining is still a very male-dominated industry and courage is the first thing people need to see in you. Seeing this courage will make them realise that you are capable and able to take on the job and deliver on it too.”

Ketiso likes to couple this first character trait with respect and trust, good leader need to give respect and be trustworthy. One the greatest lessons that she has learnt thus far during her time in business is that unfortunately there are still business people who do not realise the importance of staying true to their word. This kind of character doesn’t assist in building solid relationships within any industry. As a business person to thrive one needs to adopt business integrity Ketiso believes, she goes on to add, “the relationships you build and the quality of service you give to your clients plays a major role to the growth and success of your business.” Keeping good relations in business is good business sense as this could mean greater opportunity for your business, opportunities that could see you establish yourself as a formidable player in the industry where you become the go-to company for the bigger companies therefore allowing you the room to become the vehicle for transformation in your community.

The last character trait she believes is vital to have is communication. The mining industry is a melting pot of cultures, ages and genders and dealing with these differences can sometimes prove to be challenging especially if you are a woman in a male-dominated industry. As a leader it is very important to be able to communicate at all levels from mid-management to the minerworker who’s working underground. When your people know that they are heard by you and that you hear them the working environment becomes a productive one that benefits all. “Working in a male-dominated environment has made it plainly obvious that men and women communicate differently, it is much easier for men to communicate than it is for women. Relationship building for me seems to be effortless for them” states Ketiso. Ketiso shouldn’t see this as a challenge but rather this presents a new opportunity to find new ways of doing things. “Oftentimes I am required to be onsite and have encountered challenges of my own however, I don’t allow this to discourage me, I understand that I need to go back to the drawing board and come up with unique ways to communicate. Most times it’s about building a bridge between the men and women.”

As Ketiso speaks about her role and the responsibilities she has it becomes clear that no two days are the same for here. Her world is ever-changing with new challenges every day that she turns into opportunities, opportunities to learn and find new and better ways to do things. She owes her success and ability to cope with the day-to-day running of the business to her core management team that she is so thankful for, “I have a wonderful management team who loves what they are doing, being surrounded by that kind of energy and working with that kind of team is a blessing,” she beams. But it is not only the management team to whom she is grateful, but indeed her employees who’s committment to the company has brought it to where it is today. “Without the employees we would not be this far along in terms of progress and productivity,” she explains.

Equal opportunity in the mining industry

For years mining was believed to be an industry solely for men where they were the ones working the heavy-duty machines, doing the mining and heading up mining projects; women would only be seen in the office doing the administrative work and taking care of the cleaning. Over the years this image has been broken down as we seen more and more women working at the mines not as receptionists, administrative clerks or cleaners but as general workers and handling most jobs that have been historically set aside for men. “Women can do everything a man can do,” says Ketiso boldly.

That said mining still remains a pressurized industry where mineworkers have to work under tough conditions where they are still expected to deliver without excuses. Truth be told that men have become so good at delivering under these pressures that it seems to be second nature to them, because men have had a longer time to practice this skill they understand what needs to be when and how. This however should not in any way make women feel second best or feel the need to compete with the men, “it’s not a competition, but it’s about what you want to achieve” Ketiso advises. She stresses the importance of women equipping themselves with the knowledge that comes with working in and for a mine, if you are in the know it makes being good at your job so much easier.

Pockets of change can and have been witnessed within the mining industry, we see more women stepping into management positions and being awarded contracts. Some could argue that the rate of transformation within the industry has been slow but in Ketiso’s opinion the rate of transformation has been satisfactory. She elaborates, “Personally, I am seeing it happen, I’m seeing and have seen many of my fellow women contractors be awarded contracts.” It’s encouraging to see women become empowered and being entrusted with these roles, when you empower a woman, you empower and enable change in and for a whole community. Ketiso believes that this creates opportunities for other women whether they take up positions of the general worker or are at management level, we are starting to see South Africa’s commitment to creating a balanced and equal working environment where men and women feel freer. As women step up they need to remember to play their role not in a feminine way but in an effective way that benefits all.

Furthermore, transformation ensures that women have other women to talk to when they encounter ‘women’s problems’. It has been found that for women in particular that when they are confronted with family issues whether it be a sick child, an illness or marital problems etc. they feel more comfortable talking to another woman about it as opposed to men. In turn this boosts their confidence and productivity.

As a company Dyrex has made sure that it practices and enforces transformation at all levels opening up opportunities for others wanting to enter the mining industry and young people wanting to build experience. Ketiso shares, “I remember there was a time when we took over the employees from another contractor and there were no women at all, what we then did then as Dyrex was to employ more young women.” Today Dyrex employs about 90% of young people, the company has opened up opportunities that focus on young people because they believe that everyone needs to start somewhere to gather the experience that they need to make it in the job world. Ketiso further believes that equipping someone with a skill could see them creating jobs for others through that skill.

The future of Dyrex

The establishment and implementation of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) has given black-owned companies such as Dyrex an opportunity to participate and contribute to the South African economy, without this many successful black businesses wouldn’t be operating today. BEE coupled with the support that they have received from the big companies has helped Dyrex create a bright future in the mining industry and with a strong leader such as Ketiso who has a firm belief and clear business vision Dyrex is destined to fly high. “My business vision for Dyrex is very big I want us to not only grow into the African continent, but I want us to go international,” says Ketiso. Referring to the Mining Charter 3 that was recently released from what Ketiso has read she feels that what has been drafted in the charter is fair and paints a productive and fruitful future for South African mining companies she is confident that 2025 will be an even bigger and better year for all.

Gearing up for 2025 Dyrex hopes to have a firm foothold in many countries on the African continent as it is rich with untapped resources that Ketiso hopes one day Dyrex will be the leading company in these discoveries. The top three countries she would love to see Dyrex operate in is Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leon. With the right investors and partners, she does believe that the time will come for Dyrex to put South Africa on the map and create a better South Africa for all. “We have a zeal, a hunger to succeed and to have a more positive impact on our country with this drive we are destined to go far. My belief as a business person is that a business’s first objective is to better the country or community that it operates in and then have the profits come later.”

Technological evolution at Dyrex

Technological advancements are taking place every day in the world, these innovations are set to change the face of workforces and processes of all industries. Looking into the mining industry these advancements not only guarantee a more streamlined work process, but they will also guarantee an efficiency, safety underground, reduction in cost and sustainability. However, the mining industry has been slow to adapt and adopt these innovations, except for one or two mining big mining houses. The industry still remains labour intensive. Ketiso agrees with this, “The mining industry has I must admit been slow to embrace the technological evolution and the same is true for Dyrex. There are various reasons for this lag, however this is not say that in the nearest future this will not change. To remain competitive and true to our vision of growth we will incorporate some of the latest advancements into our business.”

Interesting facts to share

When asked to share some interesting fact about one specific area that Dyrex works in Ketiso chooses to describe the process of sealing a surface borehole. Before mining a surface, borehole is created to as a connection between the surface and the mining area, these are known as refuge bays. Once the mining process is complete the surface borehole needs to be sealed and closed off. At times one can find challenges when it comes to sealing this some of these can are the location where the borehole is located can be a challenge because it affects your source of power however one can use a generator to get power if there are rocks drilling could also be difficult and lastly water can also be a challenge.

Tamara Toti

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