Every year, the Mail & Guardian profiles young people who’ve stood out from the pack and shown us what to look forward to for the country’s future. These under-35s are talented and have shown themselves to be leaders.
The list has become the country’s most celebrated hallmark of the up-and-coming generation, a “who’s who” of young people at the top of their field in 11 categories. Mondli Magagula was recently announced as one of this year’s winners.
Part of a new generation of black professionals in the mining industry, Mondli is not only the principal geologist and geotechnical engineer at Exxaro Resources, one of South Africa’s largest black-empowered resource companies, but also the youngest head of department in the company’s history.
Born and bred in Mpumalanga, Mondli first discovered the world of technology during high school, when he was exposed to the electrical, mechanical, and civil fields of engineering. Civil was the discipline he found easiest to understand at the time, so he decided to stick with that, and this is where his civil engineering journey began.
Mondli went on to study at the University of Pretoria, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After receiving a bursary and working for a mining consulting firm, he decided to return to learning and completed his master’s degree in geotechnical engineering at Stellenbosch University. Earning a Master’s degree opened up a number of opportunities for the young man.
In his current role at Exxaro Resources, Mondli looks after the mining giant’s geotechnical investigations, both in terms of new infrastructure as well as the foundations of existing infrastructure (ensuring it is still fit for purpose). He’s also responsible for earthworks construction at Exxaro (including building new roads, terraces, and platforms). As soil is such a variable material, it can be unpredictable at times; this is where Mondli’s specialised skillset is invaluable.
When asked about his career aspirations for the future, Mondli explained, “Exxaro is currently on a journey to expand into different minerals as well as to enter the energy space. The nice thing about my position is that everything we do will require building some sort of infrastructure. My ultimate goal is to be that first point of contact, not just the ‘technical person’ who just gets presented with problems to resolve along the way. To actually be involved in the site selection and the procurement of new sites is very exciting. I hope to grow my footprint in the company.”
Mondli believes that building awareness of the opportunities that exist within the technical side of mining forms a crucial part of growing the number of young black professionals in the industry.
“It’s a case of exposing young people to the wide variety of options available in terms of going into this field of expertise. Many young black South Africans choose careers based on what someone they know has done or through word of mouth, without exploring niche career opportunities like geotechnical engineering. When I started out, I assumed that structural engineering was my only option. I only discovered geotechnical engineering in my third year at university.”
Mondli plays his part in building this awareness, going on road shows from time to time and presenting geotechnical engineering to high school students to explain what he does on a day-to-day basis and hopefully inspire them to consider the career as an option.
On being asked what advice he’d give to a young individual wanting to follow the same career path as him, Mondli said, “Don’t take anything for granted. No learning is insignificant. For a lot of the problems I’m presented with today, I find the solutions from advice and experience I had in the first two to three years of my career. And sometimes it may simply have been something that my boss or supervisor at the time had just said in passing. It’s important to absorb all the small lessons learned along the way. Embrace every single opportunity to learn and to grow, even though it may seem like you’re doing a mundane task. It all builds up.”
Mondli’s love of geotechnical engineering is firmly rooted in his belief that technology provides an incredible opportunity for creativity and innovation. By continually striving to find more efficient and effective solutions, you are empowered to express yourself through science – in terms of both your ideas and thinking. He finds this very fulfilling.
CEO of Exxaro, Mxolisi Mgojo, is extremely proud of Mondli’s nomination as one of South African’s Top 200 highest young achievers in 2020. On being asked what this means for a company like Exxaro, he said “We have great minds working at Exxaro – a company that is committed to powering better lives in Africa and beyond. Mondli is a young person who is making serious moves in mining, and he is a shining example of the possibilities that can be achieved when passion, skill and determination are combined.”