Full Name: Thovhedzo Gcuda

Position: Chief Rock Engineer

Company / Organisations: Wesizwe Bakubung Mine

Date and Place of Birth: 23 April

Education:

  • 2004: Matric, Todani Secondary School
  • 2005-2008: BSc Engineering in Mining, University of the Witwatersrand
  • 2009: Strata Control Certificate - Chamber of Mines
  • 2010: Blasting Certificate - Department of Mineral Resources (DMR)
  • 2013: Computer skills and Numerical Modeling Software, Advanced Micro-station, Map3D, IMS Van-tage, Phase 2, Map2D, J-block, Dips, Riskeval, Advanced Microsoft Office Excel and Microsoft Project.
  • 2014: Assessor Certificate - Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA)
  • 2014: Moderator Certificate - Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA)
  • 2015: Social Network Marketing - Success Resource South Africa
  • 2017: COM Rock Mechanics Certificate (for Metalliferous Mines) - Chamber of Mines

First Job: Rock Engineer Graduate

Personal Best Achievement/s: I have saved the company ~ R27 million annually by optimising the cable anchor support in Dishaba mine’s timberless stope. I have trained graduates and observers to become qualified Rock Engineers and SCO. I have not experienced any fall-of-ground injury in my area of responsibility in my Rock Engineering career to date, including the 5 Years in Dishaba mine, notwithstanding the poor ground conditions. (I now pray to God to keep my name clear from FOG fatalities, throughout my entire Rock Engineering career. Though rocks may fall, lives must be preserved. I was an appointed Education and Training Quality Assurance officer (ETQA) with the MQA, 2013–2016. I was appointed as an examiner for the Chamber of Mines Strata Control Certificate (Practical Examination) in May 2018. I was a top student achiever in Mutale Dis-trict, Grade 12 (2004). I received an award of a Carnegie SA Woman Scholarship (2005). I was on the Top Student Dean’s list at Wits University (2005, 2006 and 2007). Obtaining my Mining Engineering Degree in record time, with no supplementary exams (2008). Building my mom her dream house; she always told me how happy she was about the house until the day of her last breath. Buying my first car, a black BMW 1 Series. I enjoyed driving it so much. Being the first car in the family, my mom named it Rotondwa (meaning ‘we are blessed’). Taking my little sister through to tertiary education level, before I even completed my degree (with the vacation work money and the scholarship pocket money). Getting married to the man I re-spect and deeply love, and finally have the family that I call my own. Writing the book of my life -The rising of Thovhedzo Richwoman. The book helped me to finally find myself and my purpose in life. I would like to use this platform to thank every-one who supported me and apologise to those who were offended by the book. It is unfortunate that we are all connected to one another. However, if anything does stand out in the book, please do something about it. I am pleased by my career pro-gress, thus far. Driving my dream 7-seater car, a Mercedes Benz GL 500. When I start the ignition and I hear the “Vrrrrr phaaa!” Sound … and then it goes all silent and peaceful inside the car. I pray to God every day to help me drive the most recent versions of the car, even in my retirement days.

Philosophy of Life:

  • Do more of what makes you happy.
  • It is impossible to change people (don’t waste your precious time). Only God is able to change people.
  • If you want something, go after it without looking to the left or to the right, and do not stop until you get it.
  • Give your very best in whatever you do and do it with passion.
  • We are all connected and dependant on one another for our survival. Always think how you can help the next person. Re-member, no man is your enemy; every person who crosses your path is your teacher. Observe the lesson carefully!
  • You can only recognize that which you already know. The character that stands out in the next person is a reflection of who you are. (While you criticise others, always look inside yourself first)
  • Money is not everything, family is.
  • Unity is the greatest miracle. More can be achieved at the workplace when people work in harmony.

Favourite Food/Drink: Chicken Salad. Cranberry Juice.

Favourite Sport: Marathon- the bucket list (I do the Comrades Marathon on TV and in my mind, for now).

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

I was born and raised in a small village in Limpopo, South Africa. From the time I was old enough to understand, I knew my family was not well off, and also from that time, I dreamt of changing that situation. As it is common in most village lives in South Africa, or maybe in Africa, the going is not smooth. So, growing up was a struggle.

One thing that struck me and was life changing, was that there were families in the village who were doing quite well for themselves. Some families had beautiful big houses, some had big cars at a time when cars were a luxury in villages, and some families had both. What struck me about this scenario was that all those who had these ‘treasures’ were working in the mines. From that early age, without knowing much of what it entails to work in the mines, I made a promise to myself that I would work in the mines when I grew up. From then onwards, I worked towards that objective.

I have very expensive taste, even though I did not know that when I was growing up, but when I realised the mines were where the money was, I needed no more persuasion. It might be because I grew up in a family that had very little money to speak of, that I got inspired by those who had it. Maybe my inborn expensive tastes were at work, or maybe all three, but the reason for my desire to work in the mines had everything to do with acquiring wealth. I wanted to make money, and I saw this as a possibility by working in the mines. The Women In Mining campaign support, together with the sponsorship that came with it, enabled me to study at one of the best Universities, without paying any fees.

It soon became clear during my schooling that, unlike the majority of girls whose strength is in languages or other content subjects, my strength is in numbers. I was good in Mathematics and Sciences, and it seemed as if nature was in agreement with my dream. I worked hard. I wrote and passed my matriculation examination with 6 distinctions.

I heard that if you are not educated you could work at the mines, but that did not deter me. In the community and the teachers at school used this to motivate us to work hard so that we would not have to work in the mines. It seemed that everyone I knew had associated mine work as work for the uneducated; it was seriously looked down upon. Imagine my surprise when I came to apply to study at Universities and I discovered there was a Mining Engineering degree! I realised that some people actually got degrees to work in the mines, and that made me extremely happy. It was not difficult to get a place to study Mining Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand because, being female, women were very much under-represented. Getting a woman opting for that programme was usually unexpected, but welcomed.

My good matric marks enabled me to go to university with fees fully paid up by the Carnegie Scholarship. I was a step closer to achieving my objective and having my Mining Engineering dream fulfilled. I soon found myself in a lecture room at Wits and I was over the moon.

Why did you choose Rock Engineering?

It did not take me long to realise that I did not like Mining Engineering at all. I had been under the illusion that I loved it, but when I actually became involved in it, I knew that it was not for me. It was nothing I had thought it was and went against everything I hoped to get from an Engineering career (except the money, of course). It was loud and general, nothing scien-tific, and had few calculations. It was too loud, and by nature, I am not a loud person. Even during vacation work, I realised I indeed did not want to be doing that work all my life. It was too much physical, hard work and completely lacked the formal-ity that I had thought Engineering would have, so it was not long before I wanted out.

I might have changed to a Civil Engineering degree, but for the fact that by the time I made the decision, we were more than two-thirds through the year. If I changed, it would mean losing a full year or my life, and that I was not prepared to do. It was something which would destabilise my plans for spending four years, and not a day more than that, doing my university studies. I had promised myself that I would not have even one supplementary exam, as that would mean additional time I did not have. Now … another year? Not a chance! So, I held on to Mining Engineering, hating it, but still studying hard.

In my third year of study, a new course called Rock Mechanics was introduced, and with it came something that I could en-joy doing as part of the Mining Engineering qualification. I could put my mathematical proficiency to good use. I also learnt that in Civil Engineering, there is a similar course called Soil Mechanics. I felt Rock Engineering was a bridge from where I was (Mining Engineering) to where I want to be (Civil Engineering).

Please tell us a bit more about your career journey?

I am a qualified Rock Engineer with 9 years of experience in the Rock Engineering field. I have held various positions within Anglo American Platinum, from graduate trainee, Strata Control Officer, Section Rock Mechanic, Shaft Rock Engineer Tumela Mine, and Chief Rock Engineer at Wesizwe Platinum. I am an active member of South African National Institute of Rock Engi-neers (SANIRE) and Engineering Council of South African (ECSA).

I graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with BSc Engineering - Mining in 2008. I obtained the Strata Control Certificate, Blasting Certificate, Assessor Certificate, Moderator Certificate and Chamber of Mines Rock Mechanics Certificate during my career with Anglo American Platinum. I worked on different operations within the organisation, which include:

  • Shallow mining, dealing with surface subsidence and protection of surface infrastructures.
  • Board and pillar operations, dealing with excessive span and collapse on the triplets challenge.
  • Multi-reef mining, using numerical modelling software to optimise the mine design and to protect primary excavations.
  • Intermediate depth mining, dealing with seismicity challenges influenced by multi-reef mining.
  • Open cast mining, responsible for slope design and PPV (ground vibration) analyses.

I have just started my new role at Wesizwe Platinum, and therefore do not have much to say about the role at this moment. However, the Wesizwe Bakubung mine has just completed shaft sinking and has commenced with high-speed development from the shaft to access the reef. I am responsible for capital excavations mining strategy and support design, as well as the establishment of the Rock Engineering Department, since it is a new operation. I am grateful for, and intimidated by, the role and responsibility. However, I will use the challenge as an opportunity to build a career legacy and apply the theoretical knowledge I have acquired at University and through Rock Engineering examinations.

I was also appointed in terms of MHSA Regulation 14.1(8) as a Shaft Rock Engineer for Anglo American Platinum’s Tumela Mine. Tumela Mine is a shallow to intermediate depth, conventional mining operation for both the Merensky and the UG2 Reefs.

My main duty is to provide advice to the Mine Manager appointed in terms of Section 3(1) of the MHSA during planning. I was also responsible for providing training to the subordinate and mining production personnel on Rock Engineering related mat-ters. My qualification as an Assessor and Moderator, together with the lecturing experience, makes me an outstanding coach.

My technical duties include Macro Mine Design Planning, Micro Mine Design Planning, numerical modelling, support design, support standards, quality control, monitoring, budget, Ground Control District Management (GCD), Code of Practice (COP) and engagement with the DMR. I utilise MAP 3D, IMS Vantage and JBlock numerical modelling software to monitor primary excavation protection pillars, regional pillars, shaft pillars, and primary or secondary support.

I have successfully managed several projects during my career, of which a few outstanding projects are as follows. I achieved the optimisation of cable anchor support in timberless stopes, where I saved the mine ~ R27 million, annually. I was an ap-pointed Education and Training Quality Assurance officer (ETQA), with the MQA 2013—2016. I was also appointed as an ex-aminer for the Chamber of Mine Strata Control Certificate (Practical Examination) in May 2018. Five words that describes me are: positive, honest, innovative, goal-driven and a hard-worker.

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

The role that Rock Engineers play in the mining industry is critical. Thousands and thousands of miners’ lives and the returns on billions of rand in investments depend on our judgements. Proper, professional Rock Engineering training can save lives and our mining industry. I strongly believe that Rock Engineers of the future must at least have a degree in Mining Engineering or Geology.

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

  • Think about why you aspire to becoming a Rock Engineer.
  • Research the details about the Rock Engineering career and requirements.
  • Get a good mentor to guide you.
  • Be prepared to study!
  • Do the Rock Engineering thing with passion.

Who is your role model / mentor?

  • My husband (firm rebuke with lots of love) and grandmother in-law (fountain of wisdom you do not get at the Uni-versity).
  • Gift Makusha(Principal OC Geotechnical Engineer- Metallurgical Coal Australia), Riaan Carstens (Principal - Rock Engineering Anglo American Platinum).
  • Robert Mukhari (ETQA Manager MQA) – who have been there throughout my career journey and to whom I am very grateful.
  • Kim Kiyosaki (wife of Robert Kiyosaki), the founder of Richwoman.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

  • Never take advantage of anyone, and treat people the way you want them to treat you. If someone has helped you, always look for ways to return the favour the SAP (from my husband).
  • There is nothing for free. Effort is directly proportional to results. Do not be upset about the results you didn’t get from the work that you didn’t do.
  • Never tell a lie, it is a waste of time and energy; the truth always comes out, sooner or later.
  • Worrying is a waste of time; it never stops the worst from happening. One must rather think about strategies to solve the problem.
  • Dream it! Write it down! Research it! Plan it! Have a timeframe! Execute your plans until you succeed and tap into the joy of watching your dreams come true.