HomeBase MetalsMurray & Roberts Cementation: New MD’s broader vision for South Africa

Murray & Roberts Cementation: New MD’s broader vision for South Africa

For any company like Murray & Roberts Cementation to succeed, it needs a visionary leader – one who can steer it to ongoing success.

Newly appointed MD of Murray & Roberts Cementation, JAPIE DU PLESSIS, wants to go one step further. Not only is he keen on growing the company’s operations, but he is also committed to addressing the skills shortage in the South African mining sector. GERARD PETER reports.

Du Plessis has been with Murray & Roberts Cementation since 2008 and officially took over as MD in March. He now oversees a staff complement of around 3 300 people. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Potchefstroom (now North-West University) before landing a job as a junior engineer at Anglo Platinum’s Amandelbult mine.

During this time, he completed his Government Certificate of Competency (GCC) and was later appointed as a Section engineer at the mine. Then his career took a turn, and he left the mining sector to pursue an opportunity at a sugar manufacturing company.

He spent just over a year at the company before Murray & Roberts Cementation came knocking on his door. It was an offer he could not refuse.

“I always found production mining to be a bit monotonous and I wanted to get more diversity in my daily job. Murray & Roberts Cementation afforded me the opportunity to get into the project space. There are not many people who get the opportunity to build new mines, let alone multiple opportunities to do so or expand existing operations. I have been given that opportunity and while executing mega projects can be challenging, it gives me great job satisfaction,” Du Plessis states.

Prior to becoming MD, Du Plessis was actively involved in De Beers’ Venetia Underground Project. He was responsible for the upfront engineering planning of the project including design and fabrication, shaft sinking preparations as well as site layout and preparation.

“Then, in 2015 I was asked to become more involved in the management of the project and was appointed as Project Executive responsible for executing the entire project.”

Du Plessis is very much a ‘hands-on’ person so how did he make the adjustment from being immersed in the thick of project management on mine sites to being head of the company? “Initially, I wondered if I had made the right decision to apply for the MD position as I felt that I was stuck between the four walls of my office. However, this soon changed.

“Nowadays, most of my time is taken up with high-level thinking on project implementation and commercial issues and this gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” Du Plessis says.

Safety and sustainability top of mind for Murray & Roberts Cementation

As a leading underground mining contractor, Murray & Roberts Cementation has a strong footprint in Africa. The company recently completed raise-bore drilling projects in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and is currently executing work in Burkina Faso. With MRC’s established reputation on the continent, Du Plessis is keen to explore new opportunities in Africa.

“Africa is an important strategy for us. We have already established registered businesses within several jurisdictions, and we are working hard to pick up projects in these countries. Now, we are keen to see how developments unfold in Zambia and Botswana specifically. Also, we believe that there are opportunities for us in Namibia where we recently completed two projects,” he explains.

Key to the company’s success is the emphasis it places on sustainability and safety in its operations. “Whilst most people think that implementing sustainability and safety measures detracts from productivity, we see those as integral to our process. In fact, being compliant enhances our productivity as there are no interruptions in our operations,” Du Plessis adds.

He points out that the company’s approach to these two important factors starts with its design and training processes. For example, when it comes to sustainability, Murray & Roberts Cementation considers the reuse of water and installing energy-efficient equipment.

“Furthermore, we train our staff on sustainability and environmental awareness. We also appoint people to do inspections on the mines that we are contracted to ensure compliance with environmental regulations.”

Du Plessis is proud of the company’s safety record over the last few years. Murray & Roberts Cementation is hoping to achieve seven million fatality-free shifts in May this year, something that Du Plessis says is no small feat.

“As a mining contractor doing a lot of non-repetitive tasks, we are immensely proud of our safety record and this sets us apart from other tier-one mining contractors,” he states.

A large part of its impressive safety statistics is a result of the company’s world-class training methodologies. The Murray & Roberts Training Academy (MRTA) at Bentley Park, Carletonville, features mock-ups of mining operations including shaft sinking, operating trackless mobile machines, raise-bore drilling, and conventional mining methods. Using 3D simulators and virtual reality, employees gain knowledge and skills before they can commence working on a mine.

“Once employees are deemed to be capable, they proceed from the training academy to a project site where they undergo competency assessments. It is only after they pass these assessments that they are issued with the necessary licences and operating permits to begin working” Du Plessis states.

Giving back to the sector

Du Plessis believes that the company’s training methods have created a blueprint for maximising local recruitment. He points out that many projects undertaken by the company are in areas where there are no mining skills available. Using technology, Murray & Roberts Cementation can recruit unqualified people, teach them basic skills and safety training, and employ them as general workers.

“As a project ramp up, we develop their skills so that they can progress. For example, today we have employees who started as general workers and are now shift supervisors, miners, artisans, dump truck and LHD operators. In this way, we are giving back to the community and ensuring that they can benefit from mining,” he states.

Du Plessis is looking forward to the opportunities that his new position will afford him as he strives to grow the company, particularly in Africa. One area that has his attention is addressing the skills shortage in South Africa.

“There is a lot of talent operating outside our borders. Between us and our clients, we need to get creative and bring those skills back to the country. It is not just about parachuting them into operations in our country. We need them to transfer their skills to other employees because as an industry, we need an exceptional effort to train more people to do what we need them to do.”

“People are at the heart of our operation. I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career to have great mentors. My focus on people and skills development is my way of repaying those who gave me the opportunities to grow and to better myself,” he concludes.

Gerard Peter
Gerard Peter
Gerard Peter is a content creator and media strategist with more than 23 years' experience in new and traditional media.