Partnerships that are securing a leading performance in mining

When the Chinese Consortium acquired Palabora Copper (PC) in 2013, it was confronted with outcomes that could have led to the mine shutting down.


When the Chinese Consortium acquired Palabora Copper (PC) in 2013, it was confronted with outcomes that could have led to the mine shutting down. A transaction forming a partnership between the Chinese Consortium and the South African government rescued the mine. Today it is more than a mine, it collaborates with various communities in the Ba-Phalaborwa municipal area to boost economic development and alleviate poverty.
South Africa’s sole producer of refined copper Palabora Copper Limited (PC) is an incorporated operative subsidiary of Palabora Mining Company (PMC), a copper mine that also operates as a smelter and refinery complex in Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality, in the Limpopo Province.

The mine is 80% owned by a Chinese consortium comprising of HBIS, Tewoo, General Nice and CADFund through Smart Union Resources South Africa. The rest of the equity is jointly owned by the South African government through the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). This is a black empowerment consortium, comprising of PMC employees and communities.

Among those employees are two remarkable women whose combination of skill, drive and determination has led them to the top of PMC/PC leadership, Manyabela Mailula who serves as the Manager for Training, Development and Contract Management and Matsela Ntsepe, PMC’s Process Engineering Manager for Smelter Retrofit Project. Lydia Radebe, External Affairs and Communications Manager shared their successful experience with Leadership, expanding on their roles, the company’s history and culture, by-products and the characteristics. Particularly the way it successfully builds women to be leaders.

PC is renowned for refined copper, but there are other by-products the mine has been producing such as magnetite, vermiculite, sulphuric acid, anode slimes and nickel sulphate. Faced with choosing between two evils, a scenario that would have left 3 500 people directly or indirectly unemployed or another scenario that would have left 700 off-stream employees at the smelter unemployed, a transaction that resulted in the new owners fostering partnerships between PC and Chinese Companies saved the day.

A key aim of this transaction was achieving groundbreaking and substantive results in areas such as economic development, trade, skills and technology transfers that would extend the life of the mine, refurbishing the smelter and building a floatation plant.

The Chinese Consortium approved R10.4-billion to extend the life of the mine beyond 2033, R878-million was allocated towards refurbishing the smelter that would ensure PC continues to produce copper rod, and R199-million was allocated towards constructing the floatation plant that would reduce operational costs while improving copper recoveries and operational efficiencies.

Since its inception, PC has been leading the local mining industry employment practices. It employs an average of 3 700 employees. Its (Lift I and II) is aimed at remaining competitive in the industry, by maximising on its favourable conditions of employment. This is reflected in the utmost importance with which, the safety and health of employees is regarded in order to remain efficient and profitable as a business. PC also understands that its survival is interlinked to the communities in which it operates. To this effect, the collaboration between Palabora Copper, the Chinese Consortium and Beijing General Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy is not only extended to tangibles, considerable investments and technology transfer opportunities but is also benefitting the communities of Phalaborwa.

Manyabela Mailula has climbed a difficult ladder at the tender age of 35. All attributed to her 13-year experience in technical research and mining in countries such as Turkey, the United States of America and South Africa. All this equipped her for her position of PMC’s Manager for Training, Development and Contract Management.

She holds a National Diploma in Metallurgical Engineering from Vaal University of Technology, a B-Tech from Tshwane University of Technology, an Honours in Management of Technology from the University of Pretoria, a Higher Certificate in Education, Training and Development from the University of Johannesburg and a Work Place Assessor Certificate from Drum Beat Academy.

Her career began at ASA Metals where she was a Metallurgical Trainee. She went on to hold various positions including MINTEK Project Technician, Tshwane University of Technology as a Lab Assistant, Plant Operator and Plant Metallurgist at Bateman Mineral Recovery. From there she joined PMC/PC initially starting as a Smelter Training Officer, and thereafter she ascended to Technical Training Superintendent, Operational Readiness Superintendent, Operational Manager until eventually getting her current role.

Manyabela’s current responsibilities include the development of PC’s training and development strategies, policies, standards, work instructions, learning programmes and outcomes. Her job is an important factor in driving PC’s transformation and innovation agenda. As training and development influence how, PC perceives its organisational need for safety, gender parity and employment equity issues. The content of the training material plays a role in de-categorising the role and performance of women at PC and by implication, the mining industry as a whole.

Manyabela has used her role at PC to create training materials that exert great effort in the construction of an environment that allows gender freedom and flexibility. All this passion and hard work qualified her as a finalist for Limpopo Mine and Safety Council’s Women Achievers Award and Standard Bank Young Achiever of the Year Award. The latter award is for women who have achieved a lot before the age of 40 years.

Matsela Dolphinah Ntsepe holds a National Diploma and B-Tech in Chemical Engineering from Witwatersrand Technikon (which later merged with Rand Afrikaans University to form the University of Johannesburg) in addition she has earned qualification from the University of South Africa in Management Development and Financial Management.

She started her career as a Metallurgical Trainee, determination and hard work allowed her to gradually ascend through the ranks. The various levels she ascended include System Engineer, Production Planner, Refinery Technical Metallurgist, Refinery Technical Superintendent, Tank-House Operational Superintendent, Concentrator and Magnetite Technical Superintendent, Concentrator and Technical Manager and Refinery Operations Managers

A Chemical Engineer who has more than seventeen years’ worth of experience diversely dispersed in diamond, coal and copper mining. Her experience embraces equipment evaluation and selection, plants process audits, treatment and optimisation, initiation, implementation and management of processes and business improvements projects, maintaining and improving safety, health and environmental standards and practices, overall technical, financial and human resources management.

Despite achieving all this success, breaking barriers as a manager in a male-dominated industry she has maintained humility placing emphasis on encouraging and promoting the needs of other technical and non-technical women in mining.

She is committed to contributing towards eliminating gender-based discrimination, gender equality policies and gender mainstreaming issues. This is evidently seen in her taking time to serve as the current Chairperson of the Women in Mining (WiM) for PC branch and by implication, an Ex-Officio Executive Member in the Limpopo region. Matsela is a member of PC Transformation Committee and a Trustee of PC Essop.

As a member of the PC Transformation Committee, she influences and facilitates the direction of PC’s future strategic transformation agenda. This includes recommendations of local economic development projects that take gender mainstreaming and equality into consideration. Matsela is a finalist for the Limpopo Mine and Safety Council’s Women Achievers Award and Standard Bank Women in Science Award. The latter award is for women who have achieved much in science and are making contributions in technical and scientific disciplines.

An interesting fact to conclude with is, since 2013, the Chinese Consortium, through PC has spent more than R186.5-million in socio-economic development initiatives in Phalaborwa. These include enterprise and supplier development, renovation of schools, construction of bus shelters, construction and rehabilitation of roads, supporting township sporting events and has to this end hosted tournaments such as soccer. This company strives to grow sustainably and profitably while encouraging the empowerment of women and community development. A company that cares about its profits as much as it cares about its community. 

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Issue 42