A woman minting money in the mining sector

Mationesa Nemasasi at the platinum production plant she works at as a Production Metallurgist in Selous, Zimbabwe. Photo Courtesy: Mationesa Nemasasi

What you need to know:

In many African countries, the field of metallurgy is traditionally reserved for men. Society uses the physical nature of the work involved to discourage women from taking up positions in the industry. But this is the field Mationesa Nemasisi chose and she has a flourishing career.

By Tatenda Kanengoni

She commutes more than 150 km a day. Yet this young woman metallurgist- an engineer trained in the extraction, refining and fabrication of metals, wears a smile on her face and is determined to break down barriers. It is all worth it, says Mationesa Nemasisi, who is exactly where she wants to be.

When she was 17, Mationesa Nemasisi received a gift, one she now credits with getting her to where she is today. It was a copy of Time Magazine. Featured among the TIME 100 was a woman, the new (at the time) CEO of Anglo American, Cynthia Carroll. In that moment, said Nemasisi, her dreams were validated.

“I wanted to become a mining engineer, process engineer, or metallurgist because I wanted to follow my father’s footsteps,” says the 31-year-old, who today is the production metallurgist at a major platinum mine.  But there were no role models. Like her father, all the mining personnel seemed to be men.

Dream in motion

But the gift from her father changed this. In order to put her dream in motion, Nemasasi made a decision to excel in mathematics, physics and chemistry classes in high school. She later enrolled for a chemical engineering degree at Loughborough University, in the UK.

At the end of her course, in 2014, Nemasasi returned to Zimbabwe, where she scored a graduate traineeship with the largest platinum metal producer in the country. “I did my graduate traineeship there in 2015, I finished in 2017, after which I was appointed a plant metallurgist; a role I hold to date,” Nemasasi said.

Male-dominated

Nemasasi, then 24, was taken aback to discover that there were still very few women in the mining industry. “I am still the only process engineer in my section. For mining, there are no women at the top, the proportion is far less than other industries,” she says. She faced a backlash on the plant for being young and the only female on site and was often told that she was in the “wrong industry.” She learnt to hold her ground and became resilient.

In many African countries, the field of metallurgy is traditionally reserved for men. Society uses the physical nature of the work involved to discourage women from taking up positions in the industry.

Not much is documented

In their research paper, When the Smith is a Woman: Innovation, improvisation and ambiguity in the organisation of African iron metallurgy, Ezekia Mtetwa, Yananiso Chinovava Maposa, Munyaradzi Manyanga and Shadreck Chirikure purport that there has been little documentation of women working in iron-related fields in Africa, making the case for Mbuya (Grandma) Chirozvi an early ironsmith in the

Masvingo area of Zimbabwe. An overview of the mining industry as a whole in Zimbabwe reveals that there are fewer women than men at different levels of the value chain.z

Negative masculinities

An enquiry into the systematic barriers of women’s participation in the mining sector value chain by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission and OSISA found that women’s representation in sector boards ranges from 12.5 percent to 37.5 per cent and leadership of the Ministry and Parliamentary Portfolio Committee responsible for mining was male at the time of the study.

Some of the barriers to entry in the sector include perpetuation of negative masculinities in the sector including issues of conflict with women’s societal roles and gender-based violence in mining areas. The study also found that women who take up mining do it on an occasional basis more than full-time compared to men.

Barriers to break

Nemasasi knows this only too well.  “Some men do not appreciate it when you are “in their space.” These are barriers that need to be broken,” she add.

However, there has been some progress. There are growing cases of women’s success in mining as miners who own claims, tributes and participate in local economic activities, serving those involved in mining.

“The Zimbabwe School of Mines has been funding female students with some of them doing very well. The top three performers over the last five years were female” according to the Zimbabwe Gender Commission and OSISA study.

Nemasasi has still had to put in more efforts.  Balancing family life (she is mother to a 13-month-old baby girl) and ensuring that she more than pulls her weight to fight the stereotyping in her current job, makes it even more difficult to prepare to take on responsibilities as a senior production metallurgist. But she delights in the challenge. “I leave home at 6am every day for an hour-long drive to where the plant is situated and hit the road back home at 6pm,” Nemasasi explained.

A solid support structure

“As we are talking right now, I am actually pumping. Every woman needs a solid support structure and my support structure is my mother. You can also never underestimate the power of a helper, who is got your back when you have to chase the bag,” she adds.

Nemasasi cites her greatest achievements as recently building her first home and taking ideas from conception to execution and exceeding expectations in the process, including “initiating a bankable feasibility study to increase milling capacity by five percent, following a period of unfavourable ore feed particle size distribution.”

A bigger dream in the offing

In an industry where women mentors are still few, Nemasasi wants to be that for her daughter. “I want my child to look up to me,” she chuckles. Nemasasi still looks to that 2008 copy of Times Magazine for inspiration.

“I still want to be a chief executive officer one day. There is a journal that I wrote when I was in high school. I cut Cynthia Caroll’s picture and wrote: I want to be the CEO of a multinational one day... I still want to be that.”

Source: bird.africanofilter.org

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