Simon Hengua: My Life of Mine Planning

  • BSc (Hon) in Geology from University of Cape Town (UCT)
  • Post Graduate Diploma in Mining Engineering from Wits University

The mining industry is a dynamic, exciting, and an amazingly diverse sector with more than 120 occupations ranging from skilled trades to high tech professionals.

If mining is an industry you are considering a career in, have you considered what it would be like to be a Mine Planning Manager? Ask Hengua, Debmarine Namibia Mine Planning Manager. Overseeing the optimal depletion and planning of a mine 70km long and 30km wide in the Atlantic, off the coast of Oranjemund is no simple task. Between short and long term planning he is finding solutions to long term exploration strategies that will affect mining activities even up 2025.

“Often you would get calls from vessels with production issues and now you must find solutions. They cannot wait, so sometimes you have to work up to odd hours,” Hengua tells TE.

All this, on top of balancing strategic mine planning that must satisfy investment with a focus on job creation and stability. In fact life hasn’t been simple since he left his Okakarara homestead for boarding school. When he graduated from University of Cape Town with a degree in Geology in 2002, he sat with four offers on the table from Kombat mine, Anglo Exploration, Namdeb and Otjihase Mine.

“The demand for local geologists was quite high at the time. I chose Otjihase Mine because of its proximity to Windhoek. On my first day at work, they were short of a geologist who could go underground and I had to do that,” he says.

He remembers the frowny faces of geological technicians who had been working at the company before he was born.

“They were against a baby-faced geologist going underground on his first day at work,” he recalls with a chuckle. It was only after his strategies-finishing off the work in half the time-began to reap efficiency, that he gained their respect. When he left in 2004 to join then newly founded Forsys Metals, some tears were shed by the scruffy miners. A lifelong practise of Hengua has been to pick up a vital lesson in whatever situation he is in. Under the mentorship of Forsys Metals founder, Rick Bonner, Hengua learnt the technical know-how of the business, as he graduated from being an ordinary geologist to being in Geologist-In-Charge of the Valencia Uranium project and Ondundu Gold deposit.

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“I am lucky to have worked with great bosses. I learnt the technical know-how of mining from Bonner, and when I joined Debmarine Namibia in 2008 as a Senior Production Geologist, Fabian Shaanika, then Production Geology Manager at Debmarine Namibia groomed me to where I am today,” says the father of two.

His days are long and varied, and as with any management role but managing mine planning also throws up a number of different challenges, such as coordinating teams or responding to a spontaneous emergency.

One of the main responsibilities of a mine geologist is to ensure that minerals are extracted from mines, pits and quarries in such a way that maximum profit is obtained, with as few problems experienced along the way as possible. Hengua works closely with mining engineers to determine the best way to mine.

“In my previous jobs I had to visit the sites occasionally, but here the systems are at the vessels. Debmarine Namibia enables me to be more innovative and be more engaging with the vessel crews in order to attain optimum production.  I am grateful to Shaanika who believed in me and despite being the newest recruit at that point in time, he approved me to take over his position in 2012 when he left.”

Hengua has been part of the turnaround strategy that implemented the high grade-low grade mining efforts in 2008-2009 which optimised the resources while cutting costs, to which he says practically saved the company. And he was barely a year in the Debmarine Namibia job.

Currently, he has been spearheading the building of a new mine planning system which could define how the business is conducted. Once approved and implemented, it will determine even before operations how to optimise the mine within its lifespan.

On the social front, Hengua recently partook in the Desert Dash, a 24-hour cycling endurance from Windhoek to Swakopmund, some personal souvenir from his demanding job.

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