Growing up was not easy for Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, but it prepared her for the troubles of mining. The manganese tycoon had a tough time breaking through the sector, especially as a woman. She was ousted from her own company, Kalahari Resources, but has since returned to reclaim her rightful throne and is recruiting more women to join her.
Born in Pilgrims Rest in Mpumalanga, South Africa, as the youngest of four children, Mashile-Nkosi lived with her grandmother until she moved to Soweto in Johannesburg, to join her mother. Her family moved around constantly and rented backrooms in the township. Her mother, a seamstress, would go hungry to ensure that she could provide as much as possible for her children, who she was raising single-handedly. It was from her that Mashile-Nkosi learned the power of staying. Her father, a general dealer who owned a football club, was quite the opposite and had little to do with his family.
The children at school looked down on her because she once brought a soggy sandwich for lunch, had a second-hand uniform and walked for kilometers to get an education. Poor families, such as hers, received a parcel of peanut butter and powdered milk from the government. Because of her humble beginnings, she vowed to rise above poverty.
“I think those are the things that actually shaped me and made me the strong person that I am,” says Mashile-Nkosi.
There was much she would have to endure first. Teachers called her an ugly duckling and kept her from certain activities because her clothes were worn. But Mashile-Nkosi was a bright child who soared through school. In 1976, she needed $0.17 (R1.80) to write her final exams. She did the washing and ironing for her neighbor to pay the exam fee.
“What you put in is what you get out, there’s no manna that is going to fall from heaven,” says Mashile-Nkosi.
These humbling experiences made her conscious of her words and actions. Today, she has an undisputable love for clothes that stems from growing up in a time when, as a black person, your appearance showed that you had made it big.
She believes that one is shaped by numerous factors: school, parents, the environment and the status quo. This philosophy stems from the help she received throughout her journey. It is she who lends a helping hand to others these days.
Mashile-Nkosi’s next struggle was against apartheid. In her final school year, she participated in the 1976 Soweto Uprising that saw thousands of black pupils take to the streets in protest against the compulsory use of Afrikaans in schooling. The backlash killed many school children and caused uproar around the world.
It was among the activists that Mashile-Nkosi felt she finally belonged. Between 1976 and 1991, she became an underground operative for the African National Congress (ANC). In 1991, when it was clear that democracy would be imminent and the ANC was unbanned, she was a member of a welfare organization that helped return 1976 exiles.
She paid for her activism with her time as she was detained on several occasions. The first of which was a nine-month stint in solitary confinement. The authorities labeled her “a threat to the security of the state,” according to section three of the Security Act. They were long and desperate days under lock and key.
Mashile-Nkosi was so determined to speak to the person in the neighboring cell that she used a blanket to soak up the water from the toilet, her neighbor did the same. Then she covered her head with the blanket, so as not to be heard, and used the toilet as a telephone.
Years later she worked at retail and furniture stores and then at an IT company, but always struggled to settle.
“I was fired so many times. I then realized that I can never be employed. I was a performer at work but my big mouth wouldn’t allow it. I became a troublemaker because I asked the difficult questions,” she says.
This led her to establish an IT company, Temoso Telecommunication. She won a $9.03-million (R100-million) contract, but gave it away because she felt that she did not have the experience, money or the capacity needed to deliver on the project.
“I was not ready for it. Rather than mess up my name I’d rather give it to someone who could deliver,” she says.
It was in 1998 that Mashile-Nkosi’s foray into mining began, when mining businessman Sipho Nkosi, of no relation to her – who had occupied senior positions at Anglo-American Coal Corporation and BHP Billiton – approached her to start a coal mining company, Eyesizwe Coal, with him.
Mining was in her blood. Her grandfather, like many in those days, was a miner for Transvaal Gold Mining Enterprise. As the only woman in Eyesizwe, she wanted to bring more onboard. Her partner gave her a 24-hour deadline to do so. Strangely enough, she found a chartered accountant from the women’s consortium that had fired her by fax years earlier.
The story goes like this: a member of the consortium called to ask that she wait by her work fax machine for a very important document. An excited Mashile-Nkosi was not expecting what came next. Hurt and ashamed, she hid the letter in her bag and sat alone, until another member mentioned that she too had received the same fax.
Mashile-Nkosi became a rebel at Eyesizwe. After two years, she decided to start a mining company, Kalahari Resources, with the hope of pushing the role of women in mining. When she started the company people called her “the mad woman”, and said that she would never see the light of day in mining.
“We are Africans first and Africans are brought up to believe that women cannot do certain things… And also we are not brought up as women to support each other.”
In 2006, Eyesizwe merged with Kumba Resources’ non-iron ore assets to form Exxaro, which would be run by Nkosi. Today, it is the second-largest coal producer in the country with an annual production of 40 million tons and is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) Limited.
Overnight, disaster struck Mashile-Nkosi and her brother as they were removed from the company’s list of directors and eight names were put in their places.
Speaking to FORBES AFRICA, at last year’s Mining Indaba, Mashile-Nkosi said: “I listened to some of the comments. The more I told my story, the more certain people doubted whether these assets belonged to me.”
One of those names belonged to Sandile Majali, who was an $1-million (R11-million) ANC donor in 2003. After a court battle, Majali was arrested for fraud and offered to pay Mashile-Nkosi’s legal costs. The siblings were restored to their company. In late 2010, Majali was found dead in his hotel room. He was no stranger to bad press and was reportedly involved in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food scandal.
Mashile-Nkosi pushed on with the Kalagadi Manganese project, in the Northern Cape, as a protest project on behalf of women. This was at a time when manganese was the territory of two multinationals – Anglo American and Assmang. After a long wait, Kalagadi’s license was awarded in 2005. A $1.13-million (R12.5-million) loan from Investec paid for the prefeasibility study. The favorable results landed them a $5.42-million (R60-million) loan from South Africa’s state-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which finances developmental projects.
Kalahari resources has a 40% stake in Kalagadi – 62% of which belongs to Mashile-Nkosi – while the IDC holds 10% and global steelmaker ArcelorMittal holds the remaining 50%. The contenders for a partnership on the Kalagadi project were ArcelorMittal, as well as French and Chinese mining companies. ArcelorMittal won the bid because it is a consumer of manganese, while the others are producers who, at the worst of times, may choose to sell their product first.
But the relationship with ArcelorMittal soured and went to court. The steelmaker alleged a lack of corporate governance, which left Mashile-Nkosi and her team no option but to buy them out. They signed a $350.25-million (R3.9-billion) buyout deal in December 2012 and the relationship is the best it has ever been. It was a difficult time, having to raise billions for a smelter as well as the $350.25 million (R3.9 billion) for equity. Discussions for the equity are, as of going to print, being held with the Public Investment Corporation, one of the Africa’s largest investment managers.
“You need to take the initiative of making sure people believe in you, by doing it.”
The project involved sinking a shaft (±R1.5 billion), building an operational plant (±R2 billion), a sinter plant (±R3 billion) and a smelter (±R6 billion). A $650-million (R7.2-billion) framework agreement for the smelter has been signed. The team is working on the commercial terms, after approaching a number of funding institutions.
Mashile-Nkosi is the first black women to own a manganese mine and sinter plant. Her husband, Dan Nkosi, was her greatest supporter, but never got to see her dream fulfilled. The struggle veteran and former Robben Island inmate died from a throat operation that went wrong. She poured the pain of losing her partner into her work.
Black people have historically bought mines that are known to have plentiful resources and well-established infrastructure. In her case, and what sets Kalagadi apart, the land was bare. There was no electricity, water, rail or roads. And the diesel for the generators alone cost $25.30 million (R280 million).
The underground ore has 37% manganese content and three million tons will be mined. Once sintered, it will be transported to the Coega Industrial Development Zone, in the Eastern Cape, for smelting. Projected net sales revenues for the financial years ending 2015, 2016 and 2017 are $100 million (R1.1 billion), $433 million (R4.8 billion), and $632.63 million (R7 billion) respectively.
The mine launch was attended by government officials, including President Jacob Zuma, economic development minister Ebrahim Patel, and minister of mineral resources Susan Shabangu.
“We are proud that as we celebrate 20 years of democracy, we can count amongst this government’s achievements in the mining industry, the fact that we have more women in the sector. We hope that Ms Daphne Mashile-Nkosi’s example can serve as an inspiration to all women and remind them that it is indeed possible to achieve great things in a sector that has traditionally been male-dominated,” says Shabangu.
Thirty thousand jobs were created during the construction phase and the production phase will provide 3,000 full-time jobs. According to the South African Chamber of Mines, 10 people are supported for every job created in the mining sector. In the near future, Kalagadi wants half of its workforce to be women. All this at a time when mining is struggling in South Africa.
Mashile-Nkosi encourages people to nurture a culture of selflessness and upliftment, which she believes can also boost personal growth. The entrepreneur condemns, what she refers to as, the prevailing sense of entitlement.
“My grandmother [an orphan that became a domestic worker at 13] said to me one day: ‘I, or your mother, don’t owe you anything, we don’t have to work for you, we don’t have to feed you, we don’t have to clothe you. You are in this life on your own and you must get through this life.’”
The manganese tycoon believes that it is her calling to encourage fellow African women to become entrepreneurs through the words of her grandmother.