Friday, July 19, 2024

Lesotho: Jessie Pioneering Women in Mining

WHEN businesswoman, Mamphuto Puleng Jessie, applied for a mining licence in 2013, little did she know she would one day, be a pioneer of the Lesotho Women in Mining Association (LEWIMA).

Ms Jessie joined forces with her sister and two friends in 2013 to register Naha Holdings, which later obtained a prospecting license for Soloane Mine in Mokhotlong on 18 February 2014.

Even though the four partners did not eventually mine diamonds in Soloane, Ms Jessie never backed down from her dream of becoming the driving force of women in mining in Lesotho.

Ms Jessie told the Lesotho Times in an interview they had secured a South African mining company as an investor hence the ability to obtain the Soloane Mine prospecting licence.

However, the company, whose name has been withheld by this publication, dropped them at the 11th hour, hence they could not proceed with the operations.

“I was never interested in mining until one day in 2013, when we were passing the Mining Commission and decided to ask about the process of owning a mine in Lesotho,” Ms Jessie said.

“We were taken through the process which only requires one to have enough capital or an investor. We were shown the available mining sites and we just fell in love with Soloane even though we did not know the area at the time. However, the South African investor we had secured dropped us soon after we obtained the prospecting licence. They never told us the reason for their withdrawal. We went back to government and relayed our challenge. We tried to source other investors but to no avail until our prospecting licence expired.”

The 45-year-old further told this publication that her friend, who worked in the Ministry of Mining, then attended a mining indaba in Uganda sometime in 2018. Upon return, the friend told Ms Jessie she had registered her for the women in mining conference which was to be held the following year.

“I was invited to the Association of Women in Mining Africa (AWIMA) summit in Accra, Ghana in 2019 and Lesotho then became a member of AWIMA. In 2021, I was appointed vice-secretary for the Southern African region, of which I became treasurer from 2022 when it rebranded to become SADC Women in Mining and I am still occupying the position,” Ms Jessie said.

It was during the Accra meeting that delegates were tasked to establish similar associations at national level, hence the establishment of LEWIMA, which is set to be launched on 20 October this year, she added.

Ms Jessie describes LEWIMA as a non-profit oriented organisation aimed at promoting and emphasising women’s training and development on skills needed by the mining industry. The organisation also seeks to influence capacity-building to implement gender-specific initiatives in the mining sector, identify opportunities for women’s participation in the mining sector and achieve the transfer of skills and technology and advocate for and support women’s interests in exploration and extraction of mineral wealth and other natural resources, Ms Jessie also noted.

She, however, lamented the many hurdles facing Basotho women who want to venture into mining.

“The greatest challenges facing women in this mining sector include lack of knowledge for licence requirements and mining operations. It is simple to own a mine; it’s just that women do not know.

“Women must be allowed to compete fairly in the so-called male industries. I am not saying they should be given things for free. When well-resourced, women can compete fairly with men.

Through LEWIMA, we want Basotho women at the forefront of a mining and extractive sector that is equitable, sustainable and profitable.

“We aim to inspire, connect and support women to create a diverse and inclusive extractive mining industry. We also aim to create a network and attract, retain and grow the number of women within the mining industry and mining communities. The goal is to facilitate initiatives that promote gender-equity and foster the professional development of women in the global mining industry.”

Meanwhile, Ms Jessie has proved to be a force to reckon with after successfully penetrating another male-dominated industry of renting out vehicles through her company, Jess Fleet Services, which is currently trading as Avis Budget Rent-a-Car Lesotho and Car Sales. The company is a franchise of the South African Avis Budget Rent-a-Car, which is a sister company of Avis Fleet Services. The latter leases vehicles to governments and other organisations for periods beyond one year, while her company rents out cars to a maximum period of 12 months.