Interview – Tinotenda Chitakunye acting section Manager Unki

Stella Chitakunye

May we kindly have a brief introduction of yourself?

My name is Stella Tinotenda Chitakunye, I am a mining Engineer by profession. I joined Anglo American Platinum Unki Mine in 2015 as Mining Graduate Trainee and have been recently appointed acting Section Manager.  I hold a BSc Mining Engineering degree from the University of the Witwatersrand and I am currently studying towards an MBA in Management Strategy.

In my other life, I am a wife to my husband and a proud mommy of two girls.

Congrats on being appointed acting section manager. Tell us about this new exciting role!

You got it right to say exciting role – I am truly excited to take up the new challenge. I am responsible for all mining operations in the South Section of the underground workings at Unki Mine. I work with a great team of capable shift supervisors and their teams and we are chasing the Anglo-American goal of safe, stable and capable production.

How do you think your colleagues describe you?

Tough one to answer! Recently I had an earnest conversation with a colleague who described me as an introvert, therefore, I would like to believe colleagues describe me as a woman of very few but impactful words.

How do you deal with conflict in the workplace?

I believe the first step to dealing with conflict is to have an objective conversation and understand the viewpoint of others. From then we would need to agree on the points of agreement and disagreement and map the way forward to address the conflict for the gain of both parties.

You oversee/ supervise men at work. What is your working relationship with them like?

I believe we have formed a good working relationship with my team of shift supervisors (all men). Critical to establishing this relationship was getting them to understand my expectations and my understanding their pain points. We then developed a workable plan to ensure that pain points are addressed so that we all pull to one objective, which is meeting business expectations.

Is there any gender discrimination at work for the girl child and can it be stopped?

Gender discrimination is a definite no-no and has to be eradicated from the mining industry. Any comments passed should be based on merit and not petty stereotypes.

The mining environment is considered to be harsh, looking back on your career, do you sometimes regret ever choosing the mining profession?

Never! I do not regret my decision to take up Mining Engineering as a profession. I remember in college I used to say that Mining Engineering is the easiest of all engineering professions. I still believe this statement though I am also cognisant of the fact that there is great risk in the work we do and it is upon us to make the working place environment safe and conducive for all.

What are some of the most important skills for a mining engineer to have?

Continuous/Business Improvement skills. Before being appointed Acting Section Manager I was an Operational Planning Officer in the Integrated Planning and Operating Model Department. I believe the business improvement skills I acquired in that role have set me up for success in my current role.

What is the most challenging project you’ve worked on as a mining engineer?

I was part of the project team that rolled out the Anglo-American Operating Model at Unki Mine. The Anglo-American Operating Model is a framework which enables operations to operate in a standardised and structured way to help meet business expectations. With this project came a lot of challenges, especially in change management but I am glad the rollout was a success.

Which professional affiliations or associations are you part of?

I am a member of SAIMM

After all your experience in the Mining Industry would you recommend mining to the girl child?

Most definitely. There are vast opportunities in Mining and the girl child should also tap into them.

What do you think is the most important aspect of Mine safety?

Being a brother’s keeper. This calls on all of us to correct unsafe acts/conditions in our workings so we protect ourselves and the next person from the hazard.

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As “World’s Greatest Mum” how do you balance mining and being a mother?

In the few weeks, I have been appointed to this role I have had to rethink my parenting model. For me to be a good mom to my girls I realized I need to make the most of my time with them – this means that when I get home I put down my laptop bag and get on the floor to play with them and give them my full attention. When I am away from them I try as much as I can to keep in touch by video calling them every night to catch up on the day and say good night.

What new technologies or innovations in mining do you recommend to fellow mines/miners?

With the world going big on data analytics I believe that miners should invest in data – both quantity and quality. The availability of quality data will enable mines to do trend analysis and employ forecasting tools to enable management to make informed decisions.

What was/is your favourite project and why?

My first project as a Mining Graduate Trainee was the 2015 Unki Mines Rapid Results Projects – 100-Day Plan. I enjoyed working on this project as I embraced it as an opportunity to showcase my acquired skills as a graduate and add value to the business. The project was later dubbed, “The Everyday Plan” as it saw Unki Mine registering significant improvements in production and productivity beyond the 100 days.

Do you think a women-only mine is possible?

No, I believe to make mining a success we need men and women to merge their diverse skills.

Any advice to Melo who wants to venture into Mining Engineering?

Go for it girl! It will not be easy but definitely worth your while. It all needs you to accept the challenge and face it head-on – no backing down over petty stereotype comments!

Besides mining what’s Tino into?

I am a Deacon at my church and I enjoy ministering through hosting.

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