Eunice Mpoloka broke new grounds when she became the first woman to get a metallurgy (art and science of extracting metals from their ores and modifying the metals for use) scholarship from Debswana mining company.
She was also one of the first female students to be sponsored by Debswana to do A’ Levels in 1992, followed by a degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town and a Master’s degree in Mining Engineering at Witwatersrand University.
She has over the years gained experience in both production and project management environment.
Mpoloka started her career at Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa Mines (OLDM) where she worked at various processing plants, and was later transferred to Jwaneng Mine where she worked at the Jwaneng Completely Automated Plant (CARP) and the Fully Integrated Sort House (FISH).
From the mines, Mathangwane born Mpoloka was transferred to Gaborone where she worked with both the Debswana Managing Director and Deputy Managing Director as a Technical Assistant.
Upon completing her assignment within the executive office, she moved to Debswana Security where she worked as a Security Programme Manager.
Her role was to define, plan, manage and implement Security transformation plan within Debswana Operations.
She later joined Debswana Projects as Project Portfolio Manager, which is still her current position.
Our Reporter Portia Ngwako-Mlilo interviewed the technician at heart about her career journey, experiences and some of the big projects she is managing at the diamond mining company.
Q. What influenced you to choose metallurgy as a career?
A. I was good in Mathematics and Science. When I was doing form 5 at Francistown Senior we had a career fair under the theme ‘Women can make it in Science and Technology.’ We met a lot of technical people from the mining sector and those in science related industries. I was inspired by the presentations and somehow told myself that I can also excel in the field. I also have an uncle who is a thriving engineer and my mother encouraged me to follow in his footsteps. After completing my BGCSE I successfully applied for Debswana scholarship, marking the beginning of my journey with the mining company
Q. When you started your job, how was it like to be in a male dominated sector?
A. We used to go to the mines during school holidays just to familiarise ourselves with the environment so really I was on familiar grounds when I eventually joined the company. My colleagues were quite supportive and they initiated me into the industry by teaching me the jargon of the field. If I said wrongs things, I would be charged and had to buy a goat as a fine (laughs). It would then be slaughtered for everyone to enjoy. This made working fun and it strengthened our bond as a team.
Q. What are some the challenges that you faced?
A. On my first day at work I was shocked when told I would be working in shifts.
Night shifts were a night mare. I was the only woman amongst 30 men and the youngest.
Some colleagues tried to discourage me and suggested I change career but I would have none of it as I loved my job.
However things got tough when I was pregnant because it was their first experience.
During night shifts I would have to go up to the 8th floor to check if things were going well in the plant.
You can imagine how difficult it was. After some months I requested to be transferred to another department to do lighter duties and a lady in Human Resources Department told me there were no special treatments.
You can imagine how I felt getting such an attitude from another woman.
I decided to take it to another level and fortunately they were understanding.
Q. You have been working for Debswana your entire adult life, what makes you keep going?
A. I haven’t been working in one area for a long time. I have moved around departments and always want to learn new things. When I was a metallurgist in Orapa, we were working with miners, getting soil from the ground then treat it until we get diamonds.
Sometimes there was friction between the two departments with metallurgists saying the raw material was not brought on time.
I developed interest in mining so I went back to school to study it.
I also worked in the security department for years and my work has never been boring.
Q. Your work seems to be hectic, how do you manage to balance it with the family?
A. Family is important so I have to strike a balance. I have three kids, two girls and a boy.
When I am home, I become a mother and give them all the attention they need.
Sunday is also strictly dedicated to my family.
There was a time when I was based in South Africa but I didn’t feel the pressure of being away from home because of the support I get from my husband.
Q. How far are you with the life cycle study of Letlhakane mine and possible extension? When is Debswana expected to go underground?
A. We are still in the study phase to establish if we will be able to go underground.
We start with initiating a project then go into phases and make a study to see if it is possible.
We need to establish first if there are diamonds, their value and the decision will be based on economics.
There might be diamond underground but it can be costly and unprofitable to mine.
Q. For how long is the study going to be?
A. There is still life in Letlhakane. Currently we have 25 years and the underground study is done for life after those years.
When we started mining in Lethakane we were treating ore from the pit but technology has evolved.
We are re-treating material we mined in the previous years and it will give us 25 years of life.
Q. What does your role entail as a Portfolio Manager?
A. I have many projects to handle working with senior project managers.
We work as a team and my job is to look at the future of our production and extension of life of our mines for up to 2050.
Currently in Jwaneng we are mining cut 8 and there is a Senior Manager looking at cut 9.
Next year January we will start mining waste at cut 9 and it will take 29 years before we reach the ore.
The other team is looking at post cut 9, that is what happens after 2034.
I do not only focus on mining but other projects like right now we are refurbishing Jwaneng Mine Hospital.
Q. What are you doing to support female metallurgists?
A. I have a number of them whom I am mentoring. They always come to me for assistance.
I don’t tell them what to do but we discuss and they tell me where they need my help.
We set objectives that we want to achieve and have schedule for our meetings because most of the times they are at the mines.
They will share their experiences and challenges and I advice.
It is not only metallurgists but also mining engineers and others which are not in the technical department.
Q. What advice can you give to young women aspiring to be technicians?
A. The future is bright and what they have to do is to believe they can do it.
We have paved the path for them and the conditions are not bad as they used to be.
Now we have policies of women empowerment and we can do better than men in the mines.
Women are more reliable.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. I draw inspiration from a lot of people but my mother comes first.
She raised us as a single parent as my father was never there for us.
We are four and she managed to take care of us and most importantly invested in our education though she was earning little working in a General Dealer shop.
In terms of my career, one of my mentors was Sheila Khama she used to work at De Beers and I learnt a lot from her.
Q. Thank God is Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. I love traveling and I think I have been in more than 25 countries.
I also like going to masimo but this weekend I will traveling to Asia with my husband.