personality1Full Name: Sandor Zoltan Pethö

Position: Manager Rock Engineering

Company/Organisations: Glencore Coal South Africa / SANIRE, ISRM, SAIMM

Date and Place of Birth: 21st of February 1968, in Johannesburg

Education: Matriculated from Parktown Boys High School in Johannesburg; obtained my MEng (Rock Engineering) from the University of the Witwatersrand.

First Job: Junior Seismologist at SOEKOR (now known as Petrosa).

Personal Best Achievement/s: Involved with the South Deep pre-shaft pillar extraction from the design and implementation stage, and also the South Deep backfill plant upgrade.

Philosophy of Life: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Favourite Food/Drink: A rare steak and a superior bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinotage (Platter 5*).

Favourite Sport: Avid sports follower (Swimming, Athletics, Cricket, Rugby – ardent Blue Bulls fan, can’t get enough of our Blitzbokke at the moment).

How did your career in the mining industry begin and where are you now?

After having been retrenched from SOEKOR in 1994, I contacted my good mate Ricardo Ferreira, Chief Seismologist at Sibanye Gold, who distributed my resume amongst the Far West Rand and Free State region’s Rock Engineering practitioners. I was then contacted one morning by the late Johan van Wyk, Rock Engineering Manager at Vaal Reefs, asking me if I’d be interested in interviewing for a position at Vaal Reefs. I am currently managing the Rock Engineering Department for Glencore Coal South Africa.

Why did you choose Rock Engineering?

It is more a case of Rock Engineering having chosen me, as I had studied Physics and Geophysics at the University of the Witwatersrand. After I’d been retrenched at SOEKOR, I could not find any suitable work in the field of Geophysics, and following the interview session with Johan and his team, I decided to venture into Rock Engineering at Vaal Reefs. Studying Geophysics at the University of Witwatersrand during 1990 and 1991, the Rock Mechanics module formed a minute part of the Geophysics degree – in fact, it consisted of 2 sets of double lectures given by the late Nick Gay, and at the time really only covered the basics. At the time, I’d never envisaged that Rock Engineering would be the career path that I’d ultimately be working and thriving in.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Please tell us a bit more about your career journey?

I initially registered to study Physics at the University of Witwatersrand, but decided after my third year to change over to Geophysics, as this offered an interesting and viable alternative to doing my honours degree in Physics, and working in a laboratory. I was fortunate enough at the time to get a bursary through SOEKOR for my third, as well as my honours year, in Geophysics. After completing my honours degree in Geophysics, I completed my one-year compulsory military service. Following this, I moved to Cape Town and worked at SOEKOR as a Junior Seismologist. I was promoted in 1991 to Seismologist, but following a protracted period of instability at SOEKOR, I was retrenched in 1994. During my tenure at SOEKOR, I enjoyed all the splendour and attractions that the Cape has to offer, staying for a period in Stellenbosch and finally in Sea Point, and also made many good friends during this phase of my life. I then decided to move back to Johannesburg to pursue other opportunities after this and was fortunate to be considered for an interview at Vaal Reefs, which having been successful, led to the next phase of my career. It was a dynamic and exciting period to be in Rock Engineering, and many of today’s prominent Rock Engineers refer in their resumes to having spent some time at Vaal Reefs. During this phase, I was mainly involved with the Moab Khotsong (then known as Vaal Reef No.11 shaft) shaft development work, and also conducted Minsim and BESOL MS numerical modelling work for Brian Harris, Section Head for Vaal Reefs No.11 shaft, on the shaft pillar extraction. It was during my COM practical examination, which was conducted at the Tau Lekoa shaft (then known as Vaal Reef No.10 shaft), that I had my first interaction with Awie Swart (Rock Engineering Manager at Western Areas Gold Mine) who, together with Johan Laas (Section Head for South Mine), examined me. At that stage, I was staying at singles quarters in Orkney and would drive home to Johannesburg on weekends. On the way to Johannesburg, I would pass the Western Areas North Shaft headgear, which piqued my interest, and led me to researching Western Areas Gold Mine. A while later, I came across an advert looking for, amongst others, a Strata Control Officer at Western Areas Gold Mine, and I went through for the interview session, which turned out not to be successful. However, following the interview, I was contacted by Willem De Maar (Group Rock Engineer for JCI) who invited me for a discussion around whether I would rather be interested in taking up a Strata Control Officer position at Tavistock Collieries, as there were also promotional possibilities in the coalfields. At that time, however, my heart and mind was set on working at Western Areas Gold Mine, so I politely declined the offer. A short while after this, I was contacted by Awie Swart who indicated that the successful candidate for the Strata Control Officer position had declined the offer, so if I was still interested, the position was available to me. Having accepted the offer, I began my stint with JCI and Western Areas Gold Mine. A short while after I had joined, Awie called me into his office to let me know that he was leaving the company and immigrating to Australia to work for SRK. It was then that John James was appointed the Rock Engineering Manager at Western Areas Gold Mine. He had, up until this period, been in charge of the South Deep project. I now directly reported to Dr Martin Raffield and so began the next exciting phase of my career. The Western Areas Rock Engineering Department at the time consisted of a dream team, which was a leading department in the field of Rock Engineering (Dr Martin Raffield, Navin Singh, Dr Alex McDonald, Imraan Saloojee, Leon Jiyana, Trevor Rangasamy, Theike Gerritsen and Parasuraman Chetty). My colleagues changed over the years, furthering their own interests, with William Joughin and Willie Pretorius joining the team later. This formed the formative years of my development, which allowed me to progress through the ranks until I became the Chief Rock Engineer at South Deep. After spending more than 12 years at South Deep, I was approached to interview with Xstrata Coal. I have now been with Glencore Coal South Africa, formerly known as Xstrata Coal, for around 8 years.

What are some areas that you believe will become of increasing importance in the near future of the rock engineering discipline?

The need to continually be willing to adapt to your situation, as a good colleague of mine at South Deep would say, “You need to learn to dance on a moving rug”. With the advancements in technology happening at such a rapid rate, there are a number of opportunities for us to often do our jobs smarter and safer. An example in point is the usage of drones (UAVs), which is now quite common across a number of the opencast operations, as well as the usage of visualization packages such as GIS in our integration of the various data sets that are presented to us, towards formulating viable solutions. Some of the focus areas are extending the current knowledge of pillar design and the usage of representative numerical modelling packages for optimising mine layouts in the hard and soft rock. These are areas that will have a major impact in terms of optimising the available resources at hand.

“The devil is in the detail”, a saying that Johan Klokow would often utter, and that says it all.

What advice would you offer people aspiring to be in your position?

You need to tackle the bull by the horns, be willing to put in the hard yards, and have a personal strategic plan that you follow. Be willing to take on different projects, outside of your comfort zone, which down the line will enrich you in terms of knowledge and experience.

Who is your role model/mentor?

There have been a number of individuals throughout my career who have played a significant role in moulding and developing me. I believe it is important to take the best attributes from each person and nurture and develop these further. I will forever cherish the time spent under the guidance of Dr John James, Phil Hopkins, Ken Hannekom and also Johan Klokow. I have to also add that working with my colleagues has been an extremely satisfying and inspirational motivator during my career so far.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

“The devil is in the detail”, a saying that Johan Klokow would often utter, and that says it all.