She was only a 22-year-old unskilled labourer when she began operating a conveyer belt at Matla Coal Mine.
BY SUE GRANT-MARSHALL
Nomvuyo Ketiso manages a team of 100 mostly male employees…
They clean coal mines, move cables, help to install new machinery and maintain a network of roads – both underground and above it.
These are just a few of her company’s functions.
She was a 22-year-old unskilled labourer when she began operating a conveyer belt underground for Matla Coal Mine in Mpumalanga, which, she says, she loved doing.
But, after three years of – as she puts it – “eating coal dust and having my lungs filled with it”, she decided she needed to invest in herself and learn about managing her own business.
“So I resigned in 2007, started my own business and later on began to do catering for Absa in Nelspruit.”
The love of mining, however, resulted in her accepting an invitation in 2013 from the founder of Dyrex to become its BEE partner and help to grow it.
“It was a huge opportunity for which I will always be grateful because it indeed empowered me,” says Ketiso.
At the time she became a business partner at Dyrex, it was contracted to Anglo American and, with confidence gained from working with the giant mining company, “we landed an even bigger contract with Exxaro Resources at Matla Coal”.
Ketiso was only 33 when she became the sole director of Dyrex, a challenge for someone without any formal qualifications or training in business.
“Assuming that level of responsibility was a bit overwhelming at first, but I had a really excellent support system. Furthermore, Exxaro really lives up to its reputation as a business with values, which made it easier,” says Ketiso.
Dyrex cleans three different areas in the Matla Coal Mine and, among other functions, it operates the conveyer belt that takes coal to Eskom.
Ketiso no longer works underground, but when the opportunity arises to go down, she jumps at it, putting on her overalls and boots with joy.
Over the years, she’s learnt to handle meetings in which she’s often the only woman in the room with aplomb.
Furthermore, 90% of her employees are married men, “and I’m a single mother of two boys, so here’s this ‘boss lady’ running the business”.
She says it is how you communicate with your staff that matters. She tells the men: “I am not here to put you down, and I’m not here to be put down by you.”
She asks them if they are “comfortable” with the manner she adopts towards them and listens carefully to their views.
“Mining is a melting pot of diverse people, languages and customs, and, make no mistake, it is a really stressful working environment because of the importance of production and of safety issues.”
She adds that “my employees are tough – just like me”.
Ketiso attributes the fact that they’ve not had one accident in the past three years to a spirit of “let’s work together in harmony”.
She believes that growing up in the small mining village of Matla, where her father was a clerk in human resources, helps to make her feel as comfortable as she does around mine workers.
Gradually, she’s empowering young women, particularly single mothers, to work for Dyrex.
“So many women come from impoverished backgrounds and it is wonderful to see how their sense of self-worth and dignity flourishes when they have work,” she says.
Ketiso is so invested in creating jobs that she hesitates when the word ‘technology’ pops into our conversation.
“We’re manual workers and we need to create more jobs, especially for women, because then there will be more opportunities to make South Africa a better place for all.”
The rate of growth in her company sometimes gives her pause for thought: “We can’t have instant growth because we are growing people – that takes time. Success can also be a slippery slope; it disappears as fast as it arrives if you do not take care.”
However, she plans to see substantial growth in Dyrex by 2025.
“Who knows, maybe one day my sons [four and nine] will take over.”
*This article first appeared on City Press.