Namdeb: Zaamwani-Kamwi reflects on 16 years of leadership

By Cover Feature
August 2015
Women in Business

How would you summarise your tenure as the head of Namdeb? Would you, by your own assessment, call it successful?

My tenure at Namdeb was not executed single-handedly because at Namdeb we work as a team. I have been fortunate to work with many experienced and dedicated men and women who understand that successful mining is about teamwork and not gender-based roles. We support one another – in the absolute knowledge that the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

I remain indebted to Namdeb board of directors and management colleagues who have enabled me to execute my duties effectively for the past 16 years. Their support has been immense, and therefore I can only say that my success at Namdeb is their success which has been driven by shared value and our disciplined execution approach in all we do.

What are some of the challenges that you encountered during your tenure as Managing Director of Namdeb?

One of the biggest challenges I recall, was that of the 2009 global financial crisis. As MD I had to lead a team through difficult times whilst managing competing stakeholder interests and expectations. However, the Namdeb team is resilient and we were able to swiftly respond to the crisis by employing a multifaceted approach to reduce its impacts.

Internally Namdeb has challenges related to mining a finite resource, and one has to constantly ensure that unit cost remain low so that you can profitably mine the remaining ore-body. This has been done successfully over the years through innovation and continuous business improvement.

Over the past few years, Namdeb has also experienced wage disputes leading to two industrial actions. These have been trying times as industrial action by its very nature results in a lose-lose outcome which tends to set the company back somewhat.

Another key challenge is that of the global war for talent and the stiff attraction and retention competition in a small market like Namibia.

Needless to say, the Namdeb employees have always shown resilience in the face of adversity. and throughout these challenges, we have emerged a stronger team and united towards the common vision of ensuring that company continues being the pride of Namibia’s mining to 2050 and beyond.

Could you conversely single out the key accomplishments attained by Namdeb during your tenure?

The expectations when Namdeb was formed in 1994 where:
• the company would grow to become an important global player in the diamond industry
• the company would continue to be the leading national provider of revenue, foreign earner, employer, and setting benchmarks in respect of alluvial diamond exploration and mining.

Twenty one years down the road, Namdeb can with confidence report that these expectations were exceeded. The successful partnership between the Republic of Namibia and De Beers has contributed immensely to its shareholders, and to Namibia. It has clearly demonstrated that Government and a private enterprise can do business which is mutually beneficial. As a result of this partnership, Namibia has gained access to important research and development (R&D), technical, mining, marketing skills and experience.

Indirect or direct contribution to the education sector, infrastructure development, corporate social investment and employment creation are just a few areas which derive benefit from this joint venture.

Could you give us an overview of how Namdeb has grown and subsequently changed its operations between the time you took charge and now?

After more than a 90 years of operations Namdeb is effectively in its twilight years, but the innovation and enthusiasm of the Namdeb team continue to have a huge effect on this national asset.

Through the implementation of a cutting-edge exploration programme, Namdeb geologists have added more than 13 million carats to the resource since 1994 – a staggering 670 000 carats per year. By seeking out these opportunities, Namdeb was able to create new mines such as the recently inaugurated Sendlingsdrif mine, build new processing plants, as well as the development of new technology and mining methods. The mine plan now goes to 2031, but the vision is to take Namdeb’s life-of-mine to 2050 and beyond.

Since the establishment of Namdeb – the focus has not only been on technological development but we have also made tremendous efforts to make employees, the human gems, take full ownership of Namdeb. In doing so, the company has made tremendous efforts to become the employer of choice and continue to give due recognition to our human gems as we cannot operate the world’s leading alluvial diamond mining company – without world class skills and commitment from all employees.

What are some of the goals, with regards to the development of the company that you had at the time of taking office, that you were not able to see through before leaving office and how vital are they to the success of the company?

I believe there is always room for improvement hence our philosophy of continuous learning and business improvement. Namdeb operates on a collection of ideas - the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts - and as said before, the goals set for the company are collective efforts. Namdeb has for a long time been doing business on the balanced scorecard methodology and this ensures that we track our progress and apply a disciplinedexecution methodology, with a narrowed focus on what is most important and on leading outcomes or behaviours and shared accountability. The company also benefits from functional governance processes, committed and dedicated shareholders, management and employees which is conducive to alignment and transparency.

What advice would you give to the individual who succeeds you at the helm of Namdeb?

There is no prescribed formula for success. Each individual has his/her own way of leading. But when it comes to do doing things at Namdeb the emphasis is to live the values of Namdeb that of Safety, Teamwork, Accountability and Respect (STAR).

How were you able to overcome challenges such as the fact that when you took over at Namdeb in 1999, there were very few women in key management position in most sectors? Did it in any way affect your approach to the challenge?

The gender factor is largely irrelevant. I have been fortunate to work with many experienced and dedicated men and women who understand that successful mining is about teamwork and not gender-based roles.

Are there any additional remarks you would like to make with respect to your career at Namdeb?

The highlight of my career at Namdeb has been the transformation of Namdeb from CDM into a Namibian corporate of national standing. When I took over as Namdeb MD, there was a De Beers representative office in Windhoek, and no corporate presence at a national level. The company was mainly Oranjemund based and focused. The other highlight was when we decided to bring in women bedrock cleaners and operators in the mining area. This was not a very welcomed development and there was resistance and push back from men who saw this area of their core predominance. Well, we pushed along, persevered, gave the women support and today we have very competent women operators and miners.