Why a piece of my heart belongs to Africa
Cannings Purple Queensland Director Peta Baldwin was in the infancy of her career when she and her husband Glenn made a life-changing move to South Africa in the early 2000s. Ahead of the Africa Down Under mining conference in Perth, she reflects on her nine-year stay, lessons learned in life and at work and how her African experiences still resonate.
How did you end up working in Africa?
My husband and I had been married for a year and he was offered a role with AngloAmerican based out of Johannesburg. We were both in our early 20s and jumped at the chance to live and work overseas.
What did you know about/expect of Africa before you got there?
We thought being well-educated people, that our geography was pretty good. But I had misplaced Joburg! I thought it was on the coast and hadn’t realised that it was quite so far above sea level – 1600m in fact! It was a rude shock when playing sport and ever ruder when I realised that it was a good 600km to the coast from Joburg!
How much time did you spend in Africa?
We arrived in South Africa in mid-2000. I didn’t have a job when I got there, but through networks and friends I started doing some freelance work for a couple of mining journals. I went on a few amazing mine visits to Impala Platinum’s operations and did some consulting for well-known blue-chip investor relations consultancy, Russell and Associates, before taking the role of Head of Investor Relations for AngloGold based out of the then head office in Diagonal Street, Joburg. I was in the role for almost six years and worked closely with some of the legends of the South African mining industry – Bobby Godsell was our CEO and I travelled extensively with him on global roadshows, and to our 35 mining sites with analysts and fund managers.
AngloGold was well-ahead of its time – when my first child was born in 2003, the company gave me an office in the building to turn into a nursery. This enabled me to bring our son to work with me for my first six months back at work after maternity leave. The company had experienced difficulty in keeping senior level female employees and offered these flexible arrangements to make things easier and more family friendly. I often think back to that time and how much easier the transition back to work was thanks to that flexibility.
Following my time at AngloGold, I returned to consulting work with Russell and Associates until we left Joburg in late 2009.
What’s one thing you could never truly know about Africa without going there?
How special a place it is – how culturally it becomes part of you and will always have a piece of your heart.
What’s the biggest challenge you found working in Africa?
Language errors! People in South Africa use “now”, “now-now” and “just-now” as definitions of time. And the definitions are incredibly loose – I can’t tell you how many times in my early days at AngloGold I was found standing by someone’s desk who had told me they’d be back “just now”… which I now know means any time between right now and the end of the day!
What was the biggest surprise?
That we had to be dragged out of South Africa kicking and screaming – we had originally thought we would go there for maybe two to three years. Nine years later, with four children and one more on the way, we left very reluctantly. We always say we grew up in South Africa – we arrived there as green, naïve people, and left nine years later having had the most amazing roles, travelled extensively to the most remote places and met people who we count as lifelong friends.
What is your most memorable moment from working in Africa?
It’s tough to choose just one – but probably having the opportunity to work with Nelson Mandela on his private charity. He was a very gentle man with a wicked sense of humour. One of his grandchildren also went to preschool with one of my children, so we attended school events alongside Madiba.
Another is visiting Timbuktu in Mali, the site of the world’s oldest university some 20 kilometres north of the Niger River. During an analyst visit to AngloGold’s operations in Mali – Sadiola, Yatela and Morila – we deviated and visited Timbuktu. I love telling the story as people often don’t believe it’s a real place!
What’s your favourite thing about Africa?
Visiting the African bush – we were lucky enough to be close to the Kruger National Park and visited it with our children whenever we had the chance. We saw the Big Five more times than I can count and the peace and beauty of the African bush brings a lot of perspective to an otherwise crazy existence!
How entwined are the Australian and African mining scenes?
Very close. Our experience in the Australian mining industry was very valuable in Africa. The African mining sector still has to navigate significant social problems, health challenges and safety challenges associated with deeper and less economic mining operations. With the initial merger of BHP and Billiton, the Australian mining scene was brought to the forefront of South Africa. But the experience Australian mining personnel had in automation was slow in gaining traction in the South African industry.
One piece of advice for any Australian going to work in Africa?
Jump in with both feet! Spend time with the locals and try not to seek out other expats. You will be welcomed into people’s homes and lives … we were always a bit of a novelty in South Africa – at the time we moved there in 2000, thousands of South Africans were leaving every week for Australia. People would ask us why we were going the other way … and we would always smile and say:
“Ah, well it’s because there are too many South Africans in Australia.”
Peta Baldwin is Cannings Purple’s State Director in Queensland and an expert in investor relations and the resources industry. She has worked in in-house roles at Mount Isa Mines, Alcoa and most recently AngloGold Ashanti. Contact Peta
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