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Ubuntu Small Scale Mining ( Pty) Ltd. U buntu Small Scale Mining began operating in the late 1990s as a subcontractor to mining companies large and small, initially establishing a position in the gold sector and then expanding into platinum and coal. Today, the majority of large mining companies have ceased to outsource mining activities, preferring to do the work in- house, so Ubuntu has responded by specialising in subcontract underground construction and secondary support work. Ubuntu staff can be found in many areas of the mine, ensuring its safe and efficient operation. They perform a variety of tasks from cleaning, maintaining and repairing underground equipment such as the conveyor belts that move the mined minerals from the rock face, to cleaning up the site once mining has ceased- an activity called sweeping and vamping. Much of their work is also focused on making the underground tunnels and chambers safer places in which to work. They maintain and install the ventilation systems that ensure good air quality, and install meshing and lacing, pinning wire mesh to the rock walls to stabilise the surface. Operating safely, though, is far more complex than simply installing and maintaining the right preventive September / October 09 www. bus- ex. com 39 inthe name It's all The mining sector in South Africa has been undergoing some fundamental changes, and Ubuntu Small Scale Mining is adapting to that process. Lerato Moletsane talks to Gay Sutton about putting people and safety first

40 www. bus- ex. com September / October 09 equipment- staff have to be made aware of the hazards and engaged in developing safer ways of operating and behaving. Each mine has developed programmes of its own to improve its safety record, and Ubuntu takes part in that. " We are engaged in safety training, and we reward and award people on a monthly basis when they operate safely," explains Lerato Moletsane, Ubuntu's managing director. " We sometimes have a competition for the safest areas or the cleanest areas and so on, and this has been really successful. Times are economically tough in South Africa at the moment, and encouraging people to earn more money by making their workplace a safer environment has been a real motivator." People are very much at the heart of Ubuntu's operations. The name Ubuntu is taken from a Zulu word meaning humaneness. " Essentially, it means putting people first, and always taking care of them," Moletsane says. " So ours is a culture of belonging and sharing." The company name is a constant reminder and expression of that philosophy and ethos. Ubuntu also completely embraces the Black Economic Empowerment ( BEE) initiative enshrined in the 2003 BEE Act. One of the biggest challenges in achieving equality has been transferring the relevant knowledge and skills from those who traditionally held positions of authority to Africans seeking those skills. " And I am glad to be making a contribution to this- engaging black people into higher positions and engaging with white people to train them in the skills they need," Moletsane says. " It's been a matter of learning how the industry works and not a matter of taking over." Training is, of course, essential in any journey to equality and Ubuntu, like most small mining and subcontracting companies, takes on and trains young people straight from school or university. They are taught important skills alongside experienced staff underground, and are then registered with a training provider and taught to the relevant qualification level. Mining has always been a male- dominated sector, and has earned a reputation for tough and hard physical work. Yet the industry is taking steps to break that male monopoly and remove obstacles for women. Moletsane herself is a prime example of the success women can achieve in mining, and she did this in an unusual way. Many women enter the industry in administrative positions, never engaging with the miners working underground. " I entered the mining industry with a qualification in finance, an open mind and a desire to pursue accountancy. But I was lucky. I was given the chance to go down the shaft and work there," she says. The experience was an eye opener.