Christopher Madihlaba thought he had hit a “cul-de-sac” in his endeavour to obtain a tertiary qualification in Chemical Engineering but the merSETA would not hear of it! They funded his National Diploma to its completion and set him off to his career in Chemical Engineering.
“The merSETA came into my life at a point when I had to decide whether I was going to find a job to fund my studies or drop out of school completely,” he says.
Madihlaba had completed the first of his two-year National Diploma in Chemical Engineering at the University of Johannesburg but financial struggles caught up with his family. He thought he had reached the end but the merSETA stepped in.
Upon completion of his National Diploma, Madihlaba became employed as a Plant Operator at East Rand Water (ERWAT) in 2005 and from then onwards, success became his throne. What followed was a series of promotions which got him to where he is now – Plant Manager at Aveng Water operating and maintaining coal mining giants, South32’s Middelburg Water Reclamation Plant in Middleburg, Mpumalanga.
“I swiftly moved up the ranks in my career. One of my greatest achievements is being part of the team that ran and commissioned a demonstration plant for Anglo American Coal at Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, and thereafter building the main plant,” says Madihlaba.
He adds: “I consider this to be a ‘state of the art’ flagship plant and being able to carry out such technical work is evidence that the country is immensely skilled.”
His role as a Plant Manager is to ensure the plant is operated and maintained within the contractual requirements that Aveng Water has with South32, and that the conditions of the Water Use License are compiled to, as set out by the Department of Water and Sanitation. Aveng Water works with different mines in the country and is responsible for treating acidic mine drainage (mine-affected water) and converting it into clean, drinkable water.
“While we were working at Optimum Coal mine, supplying water to the Steve Tshwete Municipality, we received the ‘blue-drop’ status from the department, which is an indication that the water we produce is of good quality,” he explains.
According to Madihlaba, the work of Aveng Water makes a remarkable difference in the environment.
“Acidic water left underground poses catastrophic consequences. If it is left untreated, it will push up the water table and will eventually contaminate natural resources and destroy the environment,” he says.
Madihlaba commends the government for putting measures in place to ensure that mining companies are held accountable.
“We need to ensure that water coming from mining activities is not pumped into the rivers and the natural environment,” he says.
In addition to providing clean, drinkable water, Aveng Water provides employment for people from the communities within which they work. They partner with organisations such as the merSETA to design skills programmes in the form of apprenticeships so that they are able to equip the youth with skills which will enable them to enter the job market.
Nelisiwe Vilakazi and Themba Sibeko are two apprentices currently trained by Aveng Water in Control & Instrumentation. Both apprentices explain their desire for wanting to complete their training and build successful careers is motivated by their need to become skilled and financially independent. Their peers, Calvin Sebopela and Xoliswa Magagula are both being trained in Mechanical Fitting and Electrical respectively.
Sebopela explains that contrary to popular belief, there are many jobs in the field of mechanics as opposed to ‘white-collar’ jobs.
Madihlaba says that it is his goal to create a succession plan to groom a pipeline of leaders to do the same work he does. “I had mentors who deeply influenced my road to success and I want to do the same for others,” he adds.