Mining Zimbabwe (MZ): Good day Mr Alois Kwenda (AK), a big congratulations to you and your team for being one of the suppliers of service products that has stood the test of time and continued to supply the mining industry and of course for achieving a momentous safety record and scooping several safety awards at the recently held SHEQ conference.
Alois Kwenda: Thank you. These achievements are testimony to the highly dedicated and motivated team that we have in Zimbabwe. The success of any business is a direct result of the combined efforts of its employees.
MZ: Before we get into the Safety achievement and the subsequent awards, please tell me who is AK?
AK: I am a mining engineer born and bred in Zimbabwe. After initially working in the mining industry in Zimbabwe I joined AECI Zimbabwe in February 1994 and rose through the ranks to head up the company in May 1999. I was relocated to South Africa in September 2002 where I held several positions until I was appointed general manager for Latin America in May 2015. I returned to Zimbabwe in August 2018 following the conclusion of my assignment in Latin America. However, this time I returned with the additional accountability for Mozambique.
MZ: You are the MD for AECI Mining Zimbabwe and Mozambique, tell me more about AECI. (a brief on AECI Mining)
AK: AECI is a diversified group of companies comprising 4 main pillars namely, mining, water, agrihealth and chemicals. It has regional and international businesses in Africa, Europe, North America Latin America, South East Asia and Australia. I am within the mining pillar which focuses on providing optimized blasting solutions consisting of explosives, equipment and technical expertise as well as metallurgical chemicals for the extraction of minerals with the attendant expertise to optimise the use of the chemicals.
MZ: You have been the MD for over 5 years now, how has been the experience?
AK: As already mentioned I was MD of AECI Zimbabwe previously. However, I returned to a more exciting and bigger business where mining was and continues to be on a growth trajectory. The environment is quite competitive with a number of local and international players. but as ACEI we have held our own as we are providers of holistic mining solutions rather than mere explosives suppliers or traders.
MZ: Apart from your distinguished products, what sets AECI apart from other suppliers of explosives?
AK: ACEI provides holistic blasting solutions consisting of products, equipment and technical expertise. We work with our customers in partnership to optimise blasting practices in order to meet each individual customer’s specific requirements. To this end, we put our money where our mouth is by entering into service level agreements with specific key performance indicators against which our peroducts and services are measured.
MZ: You are overseeing AECI Mining business in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, what is the operating environment like in the two countries?
AK: The operating environment in Zimbabwe is very dynamic in terms of monetary and economic policies. As a result we have had to be a flexible and adaptive organisations in order to be able to sustain our business in the current environment. We take a long term view of our business in Zimbabwe and we believe that the economy is headed in the right direction and sustained stability will be brought about over time.
MZ: AECI is very visible in the big mining corporations. What AECI Mining’s strategy with regards to small-scale miners?
AK: We understand that the small-scale miners are an integral part of the Zimbabwean mining industry and constitute a significant part of the explosives market. Our strategy is to supply this market through local distributors of our products who have the support of our technical personnel to ensure the safe and efficient application of our products.
MZ: Let’s talk about the 20 years LTI free, this achievement confirms Zero harm is possible. Please tell me the secret to achieving Zero harm.
AK: The secret to our achievement lies in the organizational culture that has been built over the years. Our employees are empowered to make decisions about safety at every level. There is constant engagement with our employees around safety and we have an environment where each employee feels free to raise concerns about anything that may impact negatively on safety but most importantly, we reward them for coming up with new ideas on how to improve safety. The safety message is driven from the top of the organisations downwards as well as from the shop floor upwards. This is how a culture of engagement on safety has been built over time.
MZ: Daily, what messages do you convey to yourself and your team regarding safety?
AK: It is that Zero Harm is achievable and that no job is so important that it cannot be done unsafely. If it cannot be done safely then it should not be done.
MZ: You and your team scooped three awards at the recently held AECI SHEQ conference, tell us more about these awards and what they mean to the business.
AK: In summary these awards were in recognition of the team’s achievements in the areas of safety, environmental protection and quality within the AECI group.
MZ: Let’s talk about explosives security. How do you keep explosives safe considering the large volumes you handle in-country?
AK: Our main strategy has been to develop bulk explosives for all applications. This type of explosive requires 2 components which are non-explosive and only become explosive upon mixing using specialised equipment. This has reduced the quantity of explosives which are kept in locked and guarded magazines.
MZ: Innovation is the key to success, what innovations are coming up in the industry and how is set AECI towards achieving success?
AK: AECI is a leading innovator in the field of explosives and blasting which is recognised worldwide. There are a number of innovations currently in development, some of which I am not at liberty to disclose. However the most exciting one is the wireless electronic detonator which will bring about safe blasting in surface and underground applications. These are programmable wireless detonators which have the potential to be set off remotely via satellite from unlimited distances from the blast. AECI has successfully tested its prototype although without the use of satellites.
MZ: Does AECI offer any courses for blasting
AK: Indeed, we offer what is known as a blasting competency course and several of our customers in Zimbabwe have already benefited from this.
MZ: Alois you are a seasoned miner. What advice would you give to an 18-year-old who is passionate about mining and thinking of becoming one?
AK: Mining is a very interesting field where science is applied constantly. It has many opportunities but it is also a tough and unforgiving environment where compromising safety will have far reaching consequences than the majority of other occupations.
MZ: Outside work, what occupies Alois?
AK: Outside work I am an avid golfer. I also believe in keeping up to date with world affairs as well new developments in science. I read a variety of business and science journals quite regularly and the area of quantum physics is very fascinating for me particularly teleportation. I believe that the next life changing invention will come from this field of science and I hope it will be in my lifetime.
MZ: What are your parting words to our readers?
AK: As individuals and organisations it is important to set goals and actively work towards achieving them. Strategies need to be adjusted when faced with obstacles but focus should remain on the goals. Our main one as AECI is to achieve Zero harm to the environment and anyone ever and as the Zimbabwean team we have demonstrated that it is possible over a 20 year period. Our challenge is to sustain it and we are up to that challenge.