Malande Tonjeni, the CEO of the Makole Group, does not have a personality that announces itself when she enters a room.
However, according to some of her former colleagues, she continuously pushes the boundaries of excellence.
At first glance, one would be forgiven for mistaking her for a senior administrator and not the CEO of one of the more progressive junior mining houses around.
City Press met the laid-back Eastern Cape-born executive at the company’s head office in northern Johannesburg earlier this week.
Born in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, Tonjeni is the second of five sisters. She started school at Mthatha’s St John’s College and moved to Little Flower Primary School in Qunu before matriculating from Lawson Brown High School in Port Elizabeth.
While growing up with her grandparents in the Transkei, the idea of being a lawyer was planted in her head because she was very inquisitive.
“I have always been interested in architecture and related designs, but my mother said she was not going to pay for such a degree,” she says.
She completed a BCom accounting degree at the University of Port Elizabeth (now Nelson Mandela University), after which she joined the office of international audit firm Arthur Andersen to do her articles.
When Arthur Andersen folded into KPMG, she ended up finishing her articles at KPMG. In 2002, after qualifying as a chartered accountant, she started the next chapter of her life at FNB as chief financial officer in its public sector unit.
In 2005, she returned to KPMG as an audit manager in its bank audit division, then moved to its advisory unit three years later.
She says she learnt the importance of compliance at KPMG.
“The compliance has to be in the spirit of what it’s meant to be. You can’t just comply to tick the box.”
She moved to phosphate and fertilizer producer Foskor as financial manager at a time when the Industrial Development Corporation was considering listing the company. Seven years later, she left her post there as general manager for finance.
“I felt I had reached the ceiling and there was nothing more I could learn,” Tonjeni says.
She then joined power infrastructure service provider Consolidated Power Projects. She says this was the first time she had to work in a team that was not majority black.
“It was the first time in my life I felt that there was a difference to how I was being treated because I was black. I felt black people needed to do their own thing.”
When the Makole Group opportunity came along, she grabbed it with both hands.
“I figured Makole was in construction and mining, and they don’t just own a share, they mine coal – successfully so.” Tonjeni says.
Makole was an attractive company because it was involved in operations.
“I think I missed just working in a black-owned and managed environment. Having worked in BEE advisory services, you always want to celebrate companies that are black, and that are not just an investment company with shares here and there without contributing to the value chain.”
Tonjeni says the group is looking into other projects, including iron ore and manganese.
It currently owns the Black Royalty Minerals coal mine near Bronkhorstspruit in Gauteng.
The company has ambitious plans that include getting involved in manufacturing to create jobs.
She says that, from a regulatory and financing point of view, there are no advantages to being a junior miner.
“There are so many hoops you have to jump through when you want funds from government. We have learnt that it takes time. If you want to work with developmental institutes, you need to involve them early.”
A self-confessed self-critical professional who sets a high standard, Tonjeni says that what might be her biggest strength is also her biggest weakness.
“I want to make sure that, if I present something, I ask all the questions and that it’s of a high standard. Unfortunately, being critical can also be a weakness when you are under pressure because there’s no time to be nice.”
When the chips are down, Tonjeni says that, to motivate herself, she reminds herself of the purpose behind whatever it was that got her mood down.
“I am also very critical about the purpose, why I am doing it.”
The married mother of two spends much of her spare time with her family, and browsing architectural designs and houses.
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