Infighting rocks body meant to advance women’s interests in mining

Divisions over finances have seeped into the boardroom of the South African Women in Mining Association (Sawima), an entity meant to advance and safeguard the interests of women in the male-dominated mining industry.

Sawima was founded in 1999, as a flagship empowerment vehicle for women and was endorsed by the then minister of minerals and energy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“Our mission is to unlock the potential of South African women in mining as a means of achieving economic emancipation. Through our comprehensive initiatives, we aim to create a supportive environment where women can thrive and contribute their skills, expertise, and perspectives to the mining industry,” reads the organisation’s mission statement.

However, this mission is now in peril after boardroom mudslinging, which saw two board members, Noluthando Langeni and Katlego Rathebe-Mathole, ousted from the board.

The two have launched a fightback after being granted a court order setting aside their dismissal at a meeting in November 2022.

Sawima board members such as its chairperson Innocent Khathi-Mathonsi and her deputy Patricia Mahiwa alongside the organisation’s secretary general Masikini Sithole, directors including Victoria Sehako, Fezeka Mavuso and Mabel Phooko were cited as respondents two to seven in the court application.

The Johannesburg High Court also ordered the board to disclose to the two “information in respect of all financial activities related to the accounts held by, for or on behalf of” Sawima “or in relation to any financial activities purportedly carried for or in relation to the funds” of the organisation.

The court further ordered the board to commission an independent forensic investigation into all financial activities related to the accounts of the lobby group. It also ordered the board to reimburse all the monies that were illegally paid from Sawima’s budget by the board to any other party and/or company or persons or entity outside the ordinary business of the first respondent.

However, the board is appealing this decision, forcing Langeni and Rathebe-Mathole to approach the court asking that its earlier decision be implemented pending the appeal.

“In my view, Sawima and the respondents may be prejudiced if the appeal set aside the judgment appealed against,” Judge Marcus Senyatsi ruled, granting Sawima leave to appeal to the full bench.

“I am of the view that the applicants will not suffer irreparable harm and if the order is not executed pending the appeal. I have already found that there is a reasonable prospect the appeal would succeed and need not repeat myself in that regard.”

While the top brass at Sawima battle it out for control of the entity, women in the South African mining industry continue to face a range of challenges.

According to data from the Minerals Council South Africa women represented 12% of the mining labour force in 2018, while also grossly misrepresented in the ownership and management of mining houses.

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