Her bubbly personality instantly lights up the room as she walks through the door in a rush. With flawless hair and make-up, one would be forgiven for thinking that Dibuseng Hlole is a model when, in fact, she is a geologist and businesswoman, writes Dineo Phoshoko.
As a service provider through her company, Nichnaat Consulting, Hlole works with mining companies at exploration phase, which includes doing pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, resource estimation, drilling, mapping, and trenching. She predominantly works with junior mining companies.
Growing up, Hlole had multiple career choices in mind. These included being a teacher, social worker, or pharmacist. “When I was in primary school, I wanted to be a teacher because I used to like the way they mark,” she says with a chuckle. After completing matric at Pretoria College, Hlole furthered her studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. “When I got to Wits, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I heard about geology.” Despite the fact that geology was never one of her career choices, Hlole became interested in it.
She was drawn to studies about the earth and how everything evolved. She mentions an encounter during her undergraduate studies where students were taken on an excursion and were made to taste rocks as one of the methods of identifying the type of mineral at a particular geographical location. Hlole found this fun.
Getting into the industry and facing challenges
Establishing a career in the mining industry was not easy for Hlole and having graduated at a time when the industry was not doing particularly well did not help either. Hlole finally made her break in the industry, starting out at the rock engineering department at Tau Lekoa Mine in the North West Province.
She discovered that it was an entirely different environment compared to what she had learnt at university. “You need to put the theory and the practical together for everything to make sense,” she explains. Her colleague and mentor Joggie van Oort played a significant role in helping Hlole learn all the ropes of being a geologist. “He wanted to teach me everything. He used to call me his daughter,” she says fondly.
As with any career, challenges are inevitable. Going underground to conduct audits was one of the aspects of her job she enjoyed; however, she soon realised the harsh reality of being a woman in what was then — and perhaps still is — a male-dominated environment. For Hlole, one of her biggest obstacles in her line of work was being undermined because of her capacity as a young woman. While conducting audits underground, older male miners found it difficult to consider Hlole’s input, even though it was valid.
Another challenge Hlole was faced with related to job security as a geologist. She mentions that once a mine starts operating, it doesn’t require that many geologists anymore. During tough economic times, mine companies often decide to cut costs by, among other things, retrenching workers. Hlole explains that geologists are often part of these retrenchments.
Although chances of retrenchment are high for a geologist, Hlole sees this as an opportunity to move on to other exciting challenges. She thrives on challenges and always looks forward to tackling them head-on.
A passion for working with rocks
For Hlole, being a geologist is more than just a job — it’s a passion. Time and again, she has emphasised her love for working with rocks. The nature of her job means working in different environments and experiencing many different encounters. One of the highlights of her career was finding a mineral that had been difficult to discover. She explains that finding this mineral of interest while working on a project in 2017 was a challenge, because the population had a lot of geological discontinuity. “When we finally found the mineral that we were looking for, it was so glorious and joyous for me,” she says proudly. She emphasises that an unprocessed mineral fresh from the earth really excites her — something that many people do not understand.
So passionate is Hlole about her career, that she has enrolled for an MSc in Mineral Resource Evaluation and she is completing her MBA to advance in her career as both a geologist and a businesswoman. She is not fazed by being in a career where there are no guarantees. She explains that as a geologist, one has no control over the outcome of an exploration — an aspect of her job that could be frustrating sometimes.
Regardless of the challenges and uncertainties that come with being a geologist, Hlole has managed to persevere, even in the toughest of times. She attributes this to her love and passion for exploration, which includes drilling, mapping, and trenching. Focusing on things that inspire her also kept Hlole going in tough times during her career. “Once you find your passion and you strive to reach your goals, nothing will stop you,” she says.
Being a geologist is a demanding career and often requires a lot of travelling. Hlole has her hands full with exploration activities, industry events, and attending classes. When she finds time out of her busy schedule, Hlole prefers to spend her time on the golf course. “Being outdoors and playing, you get peace of mind and time to think,” she says.
Views on the industry
In Hlole’s view, one of the biggest misconceptions about the mining industry is that there is a lot of money. Another aspect of mining that some may not be aware of is that a lot of investment is involved prior to the success of a mine. “In mining, before you start making money, you need to invest a lot of money,” she explains.
At the moment, she believes that the mining industry in South Africa is not doing too well. “It is quite disappointing at the moment because of the insecure working environment and lack of new developments in the mining industry.” She also believes that government is not doing enough to help the industry, with too many promises being made, but not enough action. “Most of the delivered information we heard at the Joburg Indaba is a repetition of what we heard at the Junior Indaba. But progress seems to fall short of expectation.”
She also believes that beneficiation is another area of the mining industry that needs attention.
Despite the many challenges facing the industry, Hlole is optimistic that things will change and improve. For this to happen, she reckons that beneficiation, among other things, needs to be taken more seriously by the industry. “Currently, South Africa at large does not reap the full potential of beneficiation because we export the majority of our raw products and then import finished goods. If the circumstances can change, then we could at least reap some of the potential gain.” She believes that a proper structure, which is followed, implemented, and well executed, is needed.
She also mentions the necessity of assisting junior miners, especially when it comes to funding because of the struggles they face in accessing funding. “I think we are going in the right direction. Perhaps we will have a way forward and see the difference that we are looking for. We hope to see positive developments in the near future,” she explains.
Where to from here
Hlole is currently working on an exciting phosphate exploration. She is also focusing on completing her studies and making Nichnaat Consulting a household name. She’s got her eye on the main prize: to continue being a successful geologist and businesswoman.
In addition to her career aspirations, Hlole is passionate about giving back and would one day like to open a shelter for women and children. She says that plans are already in place for the shelter.
For young people looking at geology as a possible career, Hlole advises them to travel and look for opportunities overseas, in addition to South Africa. “It’s a beautiful career. When you go and study it, be open-minded,” she says.