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Eversheds South Africa, the local subsidiary of one of the world’s largest corporate law firms, has a watertight mining team. At the helm is director, Debbie Ntombela – a valuable female mining member and leader whose experience in the industry is unparalleled, writes Laura Cornish.

While most corporate, boardroom level female mining executives offer value to their respective firms, Ntombela is an irreplaceable asset to the larger sector, in her capacity as a director at Eversheds, and to the broader industry.

A lawyer by profession, Ntombela spent a decade working at the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). Between 1998 and 2002, she formed part of the draughting legislation team that developed the original Mineral & Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) – from concept – together with the Mining Charter.

Ntombela, in her role as deputy director of mineral law at the DMR, then went on to train and help the various DMR regional offices implement the legislation, and spent a significant portion of her time teaching and training a few of South Africa’s previous mining ministers, including Lindiwe Hendriks and Buyelwa Sonjica.

“I have developed a passion for the mining industry, particularly with regards to training, educating and transferring knowledge and skills,” says Ntombela. Having assisted in the development of the sector’s prolific legislation, there is no one better qualified to help companies understand its requirements and implement it. Her role at Eversheds remains the same.

While Ntombela believes that the implementation of the MPRDA has been successful, no one has measured its effectiveness properly, she notes. The industry has expressed its willingness to adapt and adhere to the law she says, but must be 100% committed. “The commitment is there, but there is a lack of understanding from the people who are supposed to implement it.”

“Transformation, for example, has happened, but not at the level it is intended to be. The main problem with BEE entities is that they don’t actively participate because they don’t know how to. The industry needs to find a solution to this challenge.”

Ntombela’s overriding message to the industry is clear – “Mining companies must comply now with the charter and MPRDA. The DMR knows what it is doing and has the power to take control although this is not an ulterior motive. Certain facts remain, the majority of mining companies do not comply with the stipulated equity ratio requirements, nor do they comply with the amended 2010 Charter’s local procurement policy.”

Community development is another area that needs further investment. Mining companies are supposed to spend 1% of their turnover on community development initiatives. “Financially speaking, this is a substantial amount, especially from the majors that, simply put, can do more.”

Speaking from a woman’s point of view, Ntombela is proud to be a woman in a male dominated industry and is equally proud of her female colleagues and associates (there are five in her team alone) and the current minister, Susan Shabangu.

Having worked with numerous of the country’s prestigious mining houses after joining Eversheds in 2003, Ntombela has earned the industry’s respect and respects it equally in return. “Companies and their CEOs (all men) including Gold Fields, Total Coal South Africa, Shanduka Resources and Glencore are remarkable and are making the right decisions for our industry.”

Ntombela believes the industry should take a more active role in pursuing women for the industry, and did this in her very own home with a daughter who is qualified in metallurgical engineering. “Women know how to make things happen and can overcome the difficulties associated with occupying high level positions, which men are constantly vying for.”

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