Female drill rig operators pave the way at Kumba Iron Ore

One of the first female drill rig operators to be trained by drilling solutions technology provider Rosond of Midrand is Veronica De Koker, also the first women in the South African mining industry in her position. This is in keeping with the theme for Women’s Day on 9 August, namely ‘Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future’.

The concept of Generation Equality is a global campaign linking South Africa to global efforts to achieve gender equality by 2030. According to UN Women, this involves adopting and strengthening sound policies and enforceable legislation to promote gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.

“The fact that I was the first has allowed others to follow,” says Veronica, whose drill rig crew is deployed by Rosond at Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore Mine in the Northern Cape. She adds that this has fulfilled her lifelong ambition to pursue a career in the predominantly male-dominated mining industry, where women continue to face numerous challenges related to their gender, capabilities, and expertise.

Following in the footsteps of Veronica as a trailblazer is Bolokang Mere, who started out as a grade control drill assistant and two years down the line is Rosond’s first female grade control operator. She has received OEM training and operator skills training for her specific position. “You have to be focused, a strategic thinker, committed, and able to cope under pressure,” says Bolokang.

Her responsibility is to ensure that the many metres drilled are done so safely and meets both quality and production targets. She also supervises a team of four throughout the workday, starting out with an inspection and pre-shift check list on the drill rig itself.

This is followed by a SLAM assessment (Stop…Look… Assess…Manage) to identify any potential risks before work commences. Drilling is carried out to end-of-hole, and then moves to the next hole and drill rig setup. At the end of the shift, the drill rig is shut off for a period of about 30 minutes before housekeeping is carried out to ensure a neat and safe site at the end of the day.

“Working for Rosond has been great and has given me so many chances to grow and learn more about drilling,” says Bolokang. “To my fellow women, I strongly encourage you to consider careers rarely occupied by us.” One of those fields is the mining industry, which is currently highly supportive of women in key technical and managerial roles.

“We have the skills, strength, and potential to be leaders in our society and an example to our children, who are the future leaders of our beautiful south Africa. Let us all rise and fly high,” says Bolokang.

Being a drill rig operator traditionally required brute strength to handle and load the drill rods and heavy equipment, making it a difficult environment for women to make their mark in. Rosond’s next-generation drill rigs are fully remote controlled, with operators working in an air-conditioned control room. Much of the work that previously had to be done manually is now automated.

“In addition to our latest technology, the opportunity also arose to train various female drill-rig crew at Kumba Iron Ore, an idea that our client was highly responsive to. We are pleased it has been a resounding success and are very proud of our female operators and crews and how they continue to excel,” concludes Rosond MD Ricardo Ribeiro.

“We have the skills, strength, and potential to be leaders in our society and an example to our children.” – Bolokang Mere, Grade Control Operator, Rosond

Bolokang Mere, Rosond’s first female grade control operator

Veronica, whose drill rig crew is deployed by Rosond at Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore Mine in the Northern Cape

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