Two black female visionaries are breaking barriers and reshaping mining engineering

Females mining new frontiers

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Dr Pontsho Twala

In a field traditionally dominated by men, the accomplishments of Wits University alumni Dr Pontsho Twala and Dr Adwoa Issaka (nee Boaduo) are inspirational.

These two exceptional black women mining engineers have shattered barriers and achieved significantly by earning doctorates in mining engineering from the School of Mining Engineering at Wits. The school has graduated 11 women with PhDs over the last decade in mining-related topics such as mineral law, mine health and safety, and mineral economics; Twala and Issaka are the first mining engineers to have studied in this field through their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Issaka, who in December 2022 became the first black South African female mining engineer to earn a PhD in Mining Engineering, is now the Unit Manager Safety at South Deep Gold Mine.

Similarly, Twala became the second black South African female mining engineer to complete her doctoral studies in Mining Engineering and graduated in July 2023.

Issaka and Twala’s accomplishments as black female graduates in mining engineering are inspiring. Their stories challenge stereotypes and demonstrate the potential for diversity and inclusivity in mining. They are role models for female aspiring engineers.

Dr Adwoa Issaka – Forging a path of excellence

Issaka’s achievement as the first black South African female to earn a doctorate in the field holds immense significance for her.

Driven by her desire to see Africa’s mineral resources benefit its people, she emphasises the importance of ensuring that mining’s advantages extend beyond the life of a mine.

“I feel very humbled and honoured to receive such an amazing acknowledgment. I know that it is all from God, and all for the glory of God,” says Issaka. “I strongly believe that the benefits of mining need to outlive the life of the mine. If it can be done here in South Africa, it can be done anywhere with the right systems, legislations, policies, and leadership in place.”

Dr Pontsho Twala’s inspiring journey

Twala completed her BSc in Mining Engineering in 2010 and her Master’s in 2014. The Covid-19 lockdown enabled her to focus on her PhD research, despite teaching requirements posing occasional obstacles.

Born and raised in Hammanskraal, Twala is not only making strides in academia but also contributes to employment in her community through her bakery. “It’s really important for one to believe in themselves and believe in their work,” she emphasises. “If you see the impact it can make on certain people, continue with your journey.”

Twala’s interest in mining engineering began in high school when she attended a career fair held in a mining town. “That’s where I got to learn about mining, and that’s where the interest developed,” she says. Her choices are a testament to the power of exposure and the potential for transformative impact in underrepresented communities.

Recommendations for artisanal and small-scale mining

Issaka’s research provides invaluable recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). Drawing upon the similarities between Ghana and South Africa, she underscores the urgent need for effective legislation, regulation, and structured frameworks to address the challenges faced by the ASM sector.

“Artisanal and small-scale mining in Ghana is a significant and complex challenge that may take generations to solve. However, we can contribute to potential solutions through research and development,” says Issaka.

Dr. Adwoa Issaka

Her personal view is that: “South Africa needs to legislate, regulate, and structure the ASM sector as soon as possible to avoid the pitfalls experienced by many countries across the continent. The failure to enact adequate legislation will make it difficult to gain control over the sector, leading to an increase in illegal mining.”

Fostering inclusion

Issaka acknowledges the prevalent challenges women face in the mining industry, but she sees them as opportunities for growth and impact. She attributes her success to the empowerment and support she received from her former and current employers, particularly in creating an inclusive work environment.

“My current employer strongly empowers women in mining, not just by talking, but by taking action,” says Issaka. “The operation I work on has been modernised to enable all genders to be included in mining. Women occupy strong technical leadership roles and are empowered to excel and be productive. If this approach is adopted by the South African mining industry, the future will be very bright for women and our mining sector.”

Issaka acknowledges the need to increase the number of female mining engineer PhD graduates in academia. She says, “Academically, we still have a long way to go. The number of female mining engineering PhD graduates is too low. We must continue working towards creating a supportive academic environment that encourages more women to pursue advanced degrees in mining engineering.”

The other nine female PhD mining engineering graduates from the Wits School of Mining Engineering over the past decade are Dr Nokuhle Madolo, Dr Jana Jacob, Dr Akua Debrah, Dr Praise Akinseye, Dr Mavis Hermanus, Dr Yelena van der Grijp, Dr Monica Cudjoe, Dr Ingrid Watson and Dr Maryke Rademeyer.

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