28 year old Refiloe Kekana, a fully qualified mining engineer and explosives researcher at BME, is proving that women can make significant contributions towards the mining sector’s operational advancement – not only at boardroom level, but at the coal face. Laura Cornish writes.
It is thanks to young, passionate and enthusiastic women like Kekana that the mining sector is evolving. Kekana represents the present and future of an industry where women can offer industry-changing ideas and concepts to revolutionise mining in its current form.
It is no easy feat, however, offering and bringing change to an industry which still remains heavily male-dominated – with men who in many instances are unwilling to shed decades of tradition and ‘working’ ideals. Nonetheless, the young mining professional has already shown her perseverance, endurance and commitment to her career path, with a studying/working background to prove it.
Kekana matriculated in Polokwane in 2003 and embarked on a mining engineering degree at the University of Witwatersrand the following year. “Having grown up in Limpopo, surrounded by mining communities, I realised the industry had a lot of career opportunities to offer.” Kekana’s decision was undoubtedly a wise one and BME welcomed her on board in her second year with a bursary through to the completion of her degree.
Still a man’s world
It didn’t take long for Kekana to be exposed to the male-dominated industry which she had chosen. “My first vac work took me to an underground board and pillar coal mine in Secunda where I had to do a project to compare the number of roadways which were best suited to the operation to optimise cycle times for the loading and hauling of coal. Over an eight week period I went underground with a shift and worked similar shift time hours with about eight men and a female miner in the production section of the mine. It was scary and challenging being underground for the first time, but I enjoyed it and received a lot of guidance and support from the men around me. I had to be humble and recognised that I was there to learn from them, although our interaction was not always easy.”
Through BME, Kekana’s vac work became more focused on explosives and blasting. She spent eight weeks doing a comparison on the use of electronic detonators versus shocktube at a limestone quarry in Lichtenburg. “Again, I was the only female there.” A six week period at a large opencast platinum mine provided Kekana with further mining and blasting exposure while cementing her position as a specialist within the sector.
A platform to excel
Since joining BME in 2009 as a junior engineer Kekana has worked in“As a woman I feel the pressure to prove you know what you are talking about is high. Men often speak over you so when you speak you have to make it count and you have to work a little bit harder. Trying to introduce new concepts and technologies is a challenge because men, particularly the old-school generations, remain rooted in their tried and tested routines,” Refiloe Kekana