Les Gardner has taken on the role of Sanire President. Here’s your chance to get to know a bit more about him.

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In his time as President of Sanire, Les Gardner, rock engineering manager at Impala Platinum, hopes to see three achievements.

The first is an increase in the number of people entering the rock engineering discipline and also the number of certificated rock engineers. The second is to oversee the completion of learning material for the Chamber of Mines Rock Mechanics Certificate. The third is to formalise the educational and professional registration options for rock engineers.

Networking

His decision to make himself available to serve in this important role was prompted by his experiences since he joined Sanire (then Sangorm) in the early 90s: “I wanted to pass on the sense of comradeship that I’ve experienced in our discipline. I often tell people that I may not know the answer to a problem, but I guarantee that I know someone who knows the answer.”

Membership has held many benefits for Les, but he highlights the access to new developments in rock engineering, his career and personal growth, and his network of friends and colleagues, which now stretches across the world.

One of his favourite anecdotes relates to this network: “Some years ago, as a junior rock engineering practitioner, I went for an interview with Anglo American, at their offices in downtown Johannesburg. The interview would be attended by all the rock engineering managers from the different AngloGold mines,” Les relates.

“Picture the moment – this huge, intimidating building, dressed in marble and gleaming wood, all these suited people, the stress of an interview… and then, when I entered the venue, I realised that I knew everyone in the room except for the HR practitioner!”

Learning

Les retains this humility despite literally a lifetime spent in mining – he was born on 1 January 1968 at the Blyvooruitzicht nursing home outside Carletonville and spent his childhood in various mining towns.

He also has a strong commitment to education, as is obvious from what he hopes to achieve during his time as President. He already has a Masters degree in Engineering from Wits and a Mine Overseer’s Certificate of Competency (DMR) and has completed Unisa’s Management Development Programme.

“I keep muttering about doing a Doctorate, but it never really seems to get off the ground.” says Les.

For Les, becoming rock engineer was a defining moment in his life and he will never forget the mentors who have helped him along the way, John Keen, the late Sergei Steyn, his first mentors in rock engineering at what was then Kinross Mine, and Professor Budavari. “The Professor was kind enough to spend time helping me overcome the challenges of calculus (my personal demon).”

Variety

To this day, Les enjoys the variety of projects and people that he deals with in his job, which confirms the wisdom of his decision to pursue this field of study, with its balance between technical and practical challenges and the variety it offers.

This variety also features in the major issues and challenges Les sees for his profession in South Africa in future.

“For mining, the increasing emphasis placed on rock engineering in mining safety by the Department of Mineral Resources implies that we will need to lift our game in terms of recruiting, educating and qualifying rock engineering practitioners for the mining environment. The current skills shortage can only be addressed by a concerted effort, not only by mining groups but also by the contracting and consulting firms,” he points out.

“At the same time, we need to bring back the effort placed on rock engineering research, whether fundamental or applied. If this is not going to happen via the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, then it needs to be relocated to the universities,” he insists.

“For civil and geotechnical practitioners, we need to find innovative ways of addressing the infrastructure needs of our developing country, particularly the far-flung rural areas. We also need to find a way to bring these two groups closer together, to create a better blend of participation within Sanire,” he points out.

Relaxation

When asked about what he likes to spend his free time, Les quips: “What free time?” but goes on to say that he has been married to Kim, “my better half, by far!”, for the past 19-odd years. He enjoys game watching and camping with her and their two children, Robyn (14) and Shannon (12). He also loves mountain biking and amateur photography. The Pilanesberg is his favourite place to bring all of these interests together.

Les also wryly comments that he adds volume to his church choir and currently spends most summer weekends as an official at North West swimming galas.

His guiding principle in life? “Treat others the way you would like to be treated, never take yourself too seriously and learn something new every day.