‘The workplace in the past has been designed by men for men’
NATASCHA Viljoen has brought a different dimension to Anglo American’s platinum company since her appointment in 2020. Speaking at a mining conference, she spoke poignantly about the plight of female miners in South Africa, who are vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse underground. On the labour front, she secured five-year wage agreements with unions including the militant Amcu. Linked to inflation, the agreements come against the backdrop of Amplats’s strong profits, which are mirrored by its platinum peers.
In May, Amplats unveiled a prototype of the world’s largest hydrogen mine haul truck, which emits zero emissions while making use of PGMs. But it’s the delivery of Mogalakwena that may define Viljoen’s time at Amplats. An enormous mechanised mine, Mogalakwena is the jewel in the Amplats crown, but an extension project is taking an age to approve. Viljoen argues she has to weigh a multiplicity of factors, including the project’s impact on community relations and technical considerations such as whether it’s best to proceed underground rather than extend the current open pit (the former seems likeliest).
Recent events have also complicated the picture: supply-chain logjams and runaway inflation, which resulted in an 18-to-24-month delay in the approval of Mogalakwena’s third concentrator. It’s heavy stuff to which you can add Eskom power curtailments, which at recent levels will make a serious dent on Amplats’s ability to refine saleable PGM ounces. In December, Viljoen announced adjustments to its production forecasts for 2023 and 2024. The company expects to release an inventory build of some 350,000 ounces over the next two years. While that’s an unwanted capital build for Viljoen, it at least underlines market projections that say South African PGM supply is unlikely to grow, providing a boost to metal prices.
LIFE OF NATASCHA
Before Anglo, Viljoen was head of processing at Lonmin, a role that was combined with looking after the firm’s sustainability brief. A metallurgist, she developed award-winning technology that is energy and resource efficient. Mining is in her veins: Viljoen’s father was a shift manager in Klerksdorp, where she grew up. She matriculated at Hoërskool Klerksdorp in 1987 before going to study engineering at Northwest University in Potchestroom. She later earned an executive MBA (cum laude) from the University of Cape Town. Viljoen relocated back to Africa from Australia to take up the position at Amplats.