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.
and they could not get at them," she explains. Ubuntu, too, is vulnerable to the current difficult economic climate. Just a year ago, the company employed approximately 1400 people. Today, following the loss of a large contract, it employs approximately 700. However, the company is working to develop longer term relationships with its key customers, which should deliver better value for the client and stability for Ubuntu. " We're negotiating with some of our bigger customers to replace the usual one year renewable contract with three or five year contracts," Moletsane says. " I believe Sasol Mining and Lonmin will be doing this. " Many large companies are now realising that it is easier to build relationships of reliance and trust with companies that are engaged for longer periods, and we are seeing this in the renewal of our contracts. It is the best way to move the company forward, and it has also helped to lift people's spirits and keep them high," she concludes. - Editorial research by Robert Hodgson " I learned what the business was really about, and how it operated at different levels of management and supervision." Since then she has risen to the post of managing director, and continues to go underground, using that experience to introduce many process and operational improvements. Managing such changes, however, is not always easy. " Every time you introduce a new measure you get a percentage of people who are rebellious to it. But I believe it comes down to the process of defreezing and refreezing," she says. This involves learning how the job is performed, and then reassuring the staff that the intention is not to take away their hard- won skills, simply to improve on them. The mining industry is currently going through a difficult time, and for many it has been a matter of survival. " Attention has moved away from the balance sheet, and is focused on cash flow. Some of the bigger houses have had difficulties moving stock, and this directly impacts on smaller companies. So for many of those that have died along the way, their monies were locked up somewhere Ubuntu Small Scale Mining ( Pty) Ltd. September / October 09 www. bus- ex. com 41