Ensuring a brighter tomorrow

The legacy continues

06 December 2021 | Labour

Namdeb prides itself on being over 99% Namibianised. This is achieved through skills development that supports Namibia’s national development plans and over the years resulted in benefits for the company and has trained Namdeb professionals across industries in Namibia. Some of these professionals continue to be employed by Namdeb and today we are featuring Lionel Coetzee, a previous Namdeb bursar who has climbed the ranks and was instrumental in obtaining the approval for Namdeb’s new long-term plan.

1.Tell us more about Lionel Coetzee?

I was born in Keetmanshoop, the middle child of three boys. I lost my father at an early age, leaving my single mother to raise my brothers and I.
I have always been a dedicated learner who strived for the best and due to the implementation of the Cambridge curriculum, I would attend the standard grade throughout the normal school day and then the higher-grade classes in the afternoons, thanks to the support of some dedicated teachers.

During my grade 12 year, I applied for various bursary opportunities and received a few, with the most notable ones for information technology through Nampower and metallurgy through Namdeb. I chose to accept the Namdeb bursary even when I had no knowledge of mining nor metallurgy. The dictionary definitions captured my interest and applied sciences greatly appealed to my passion of wanting to know how things work and how to improve them without reinventing.

I have never looked back or regretted that decision to take up the offer. After completing my studies in Johannesburg, I joined Namdeb immediately and was moved to Elizabeth Bay. It was while staying in Lüderitz that I met Delmaree, whom I married in 2009. We have three beautiful children together – two boys and one girl. They provide grounding, love and a blessing into my life.

2.What has your career journey been to date?

I joined Namdeb at a time when the Namibianisation of the workforce was just starting. At the time, a large number of the supervisors, professionals and management staff were non-Namibians, and this transformation presented an opportunity. It was an opportunity that had to be taken, though it wasn’t without difficulties. Whilst most people were helpful, we had to work hard to make sure that we could be entrusted with more and more senior roles. Despite this, I progressed at a fast pace through the ranks of the company.

While at Elizabeth Bay, I was appointed as the lead for the Namdeb commissioning team for the large expansion project. This was a significant appointment for me as at the time I only had a few years of experience. I must admit that this was a valuable but rather tough experience. It has also taught me that taking on opportunities that stretch one’s ambitions is a good way to build varied experience. After the commissioning was completed, I was promoted to first assistant plant superintendent and then plant manager.

I was then moved to the Northern Coastal mines pocket beaches operations and soon left Namdeb less than a year after that transition. I didn’t enjoy the move, and the offsite working arrangement wasn’t really working as my first child had just been born and I wanted to spend maximum time with him and my then girlfriend – now my wife. I therefore left Namdeb and joined Langer Heinrich Uranium but returned to Namdeb after less than two years. While working and learning about uranium processing was exciting, I missed the expanded scope and breadth of experience that Namdeb has to offer.

At Namdeb, you are often challenged to work across functional silos, which is something I always enjoy. I rejoined as the Orange River Mines Daberas plant manager, and after a while I identified an opportunity to extend the life of mine, which was nearing its end towards the end of 2012. I was granted the opportunity to work on this project, which resulted in an increase in throughput of more than 40% and extended the life significantly.

For this project, I won a joint first prize at the annual metallurgical conference for which the prize was a trip around the world! This took us to the United Kingdom, Canada and Chile (and then we stayed on a bit privately to visit Brazil and Argentina as well.)

After my projects stint, I was asked to take over the metallurgy lead role which gave me a view across different business units and was key to broadening my outlook as well as increased my profile and impact at De Beers and AngloAmerican Group level within the processing discipline. I was promoted to strategic projects lead in late 2018. At the time, Namdeb’s closure date was at the end of 2022 and the task was clear – to present a viable option to ensure that the life is extended.

3.What are your views regarding Namdeb’s career development opportunities?

Namdeb has great depth in talent which is always supplemented with the best available talent. This is one of Namdeb’s great legacies; that through a robust bursary and graduate trainee programmes, this company has produced so many professionals that you cannot go to a mine in Namibia without finding people previously trained at Namdeb who are now in senior positions. Our graduate training programme is on par with the best in the industry – it provides graduates with an opportunity to learn without the pressure of day-today operations.

The transformation from mostly non-Namibian professionals and managers to more than 99% Namibians within my working life is remarkable. This culture of career development is entrenched and is something that needs to be sustained going forward. While this may have had less of a focus during recent years when we had a short life of mine, as a business, we continued to build on this legacy.

As we look to the future and focus on implementation of the long-term business plan, it will be imperative to harness learning and career growth opportunities as we are mindful that new skills will be required to move the business even further forward. At the same time, we should continue our work on incorporating inclusion and diversity. The fact that almost all the people who worked on and developed the plan were home-grown is another feather in Namdeb’s cap.

4.Any words of encouragement to young people who want to pursue a career in Mining?

Mining is a great industry that provides significant opportunities for development. There are several promising projects in Namibia that suggest that mining may be set for a boom period again. Mining also needs new skills as well. In addition to the operational, continuous improvement and innovation aspects of the job, there are aspects like sustainability and the social impact of mining is already established in the industry and will mature even further and become more prominent.

More and more, people are looking for roles that align with their personal purpose and ensure that they make a positive impact on the world, and mining needs to provide that to ensure we attract the right talent.

Finally, I believe all jobs in the future will require three main traits and young people have to aspire to cultivate these as much as possible – having tolerance for ambiguity and being curious; being data savvy and digital natives; and being culturally aware, possessing cognitive flexibility and being empathetic. Mining is no different, as the same level of thinking will not take the industry forward and thus, we also need to attract a different skill set to what we have been doing so far.

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