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For many companies, transformation remains a tick-box exercise; in most cases it’s simply about adhering to BEE Codes and ensuring leadership equity. But for Afrimat, a leading open-pit mining company supplying industrial minerals and construction materials to the market, it’s about far more than just that. CEO Andries van Heerden is so passionate about grass roots transformation within the Group that he’s ensured this approach is enshrined groupwide, without exception.
Van Heerden says: “Like with so many things in life, hard work is rewarded, but in the unique South African case, one sometimes requires an environment where a company is willing to go the extra mile to back an individual it believes has what it takes. The result is success for the individual as well as the company.”
So fervent is van Heerden in making a true difference in the lives of Afrimat employees, that he is conversant with the circumstance of practically each person in the Group that has benefited from this approach. But it’s best endorsed by someone who has felt the power of this life-changing approach first-hand, and that’s Bongani Nkonyane, the Human Resources Assistant at SA Block (Pty) Limited (“SA Block”).
The son of a KZN taxi driver who matriculated with the grades required to be accepted by the-then University of Natal, Nkonyane relied on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to fund his tertiary education. But his dreams of getting a degree in the social sciences ended abruptly when Natal merged with University of Durban-Westville in 2004, resulting in many changes, including fee increases. When NSFAS announced they could only fund 75% of bursaries, leaving students to come up with the remaining 25% themselves, Nkonyane abandoned his dreams of a full-time university education. He simply could not afford it.
Forced to move to Gauteng in search of work, Nkonyane was hired as a brick loader operator at SA Block. As determined as he was to carry on his studies via distance learning, this was not to be. Living in the nearby compound in often overcrowded and noisy conditions, Nkonyane struggled to find the time and quiet space he needed to study, and so, once again, shelved his plans. However, not one to give up hope, he soon proved himself on the job, and was transferred to SA Block’s Alrode head office as a mounted crane operator. The experience served him well, and in 2009, when the company was looking for a sales clerk, back at the Redan site where he’d first been employed, Nkonyane seized the opportunity with both hands, a firm believer that when a chance comes along, one must act on it, never knowing if you’ll get one again.
It was in this role that Nkonyane pushed himself harder than ever, working long hours, being left in the main alone to figure things out due to personal circumstances of other colleagues at the time. “I can honestly say this is when I began to understand that nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself.”
But it was when Afrimat acquired SA Block, says Nkonyane, that people development headlined the corporate agenda, gaining real impetus. “Afrimat recognised the skills and experience we had, and the fundamental principle entrenched throughout the company now is that while skills and experience can lead you to a certain level, qualifications will push you beyond your limits.”
In mid-2013 Nkonyane moved back to Alrode to start another position, this time in the Stores and Procurement department. It was here that his HR manager discovered that he had completed several social science courses at university. “Management responded immediately, inviting me to join the HR team and prove my capabilities. Not only that, but I was given the opportunity to revive my dream of going back to school.”
Rubin Bebe, the HR Manager at SA Block, is proud to have Nkonyane on board, attesting to his tenacity and determination to succeed. “Bongani is a very focused individual, with an affinity for working with people.” Bebe points out that what sets Nkonyane aside is his willingness to learn and take on new challenges. “I am confident that he will make a success in HR; he has loads of potential and the right disposition for the role.”
Nkonyane is currently enrolled at UNISA through the Afrimat Study Assistance programme where he is completing a Managing and Training Development course. He has also completed college courses in basic computer skills and computer literacy. “These last 11 years has been the most amazing journey, and hence my favourite quote, by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is this: ‘You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets’.”
“This is not a story of tokenism. It is a story of opportunity, dedication, long hours, job satisfaction and learning – and the result is a true, meaningful change in the life, not only of Bongani, but of his family too. He has taken all opportunities presented and used these to ensure a sustainable career ahead. I am inspired and proud to have motivated people such as Bongani in the Afrimat Group. Stories such as these are the ones we need told and repeated over and over again,” says van Heerden. “I will continue to support this form of upliftment because we have the experience to know that it is both lasting and meaningful.”
- Black ownership in Afrimat totals 27.1%, in line with Mining Charter requirements.
- Andries van Heerden, the CEO of Afrimat, was announced the Master winner of the 2017 EY World Entrepreneur Award™ Southern Africa; he will be participating in the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ in June 2018.
- Afrimat has featured as a Top 10 company in the Sunday Times Top 100 awards for the past 4 years, and is the only company in South Africa that has consistently been in the top 10 since 2014.
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