A conversation with Mark Mabhudhu, CEO of the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (Pvt) Ltd
In the early 2000s, one of the most significant diamond discoveries of recent times was made at Marange’s Chiadzwa Diamond Fields, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland (eastern region). The discovery turned the country into arguably one of the world’s largest diamond producers. It is estimated that the Marange diamonds are over one billion years old and comprise of both the alluvial and those still locked up in the conglomeritic source. These diamonds were eroded from the primary source (which is still to be identified) and deposited in the basal conglomerate rock which is a secondary source environment.
Subsequent weathering and erosion of the conglomerate rock further released the diamonds into a tertiary source where they occur in their natural state on slopes, paleo channels, low lying areas, streams and rivers. It is further understood that large quantities of these diamonds were drained into the Odzi and Save rivers in Zimbabwe, then Mozambique and finally into the Indian Ocean. Future exploration efforts will be made to further identify and establish more diamond resources in line with this postulation.
Leading efforts to extract diamonds in the Marange diamond field is the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (Pvt) Ltd (ZCDC). The European caught up with new Chief Executive Officer Mark Mabhudhu to find out more.
You were appointed as CEO of ZCDC in September 2020. How does it feel 17 months into the job?
It has been a roller-coaster ride, with intriguing moments as well as exhilarating ones. It has never been a walk in the park, nonetheless. What I can profess to-date is that the business has been successfully turned around, with spectacular results evidently showing so. The organisation had become a perennial loss-making entity since its inception, a situation that has been reversed during this 17-month period. Specifically, 2021 was the first ever financial year in which ZCDC made a profit. A lot of interventions related to changing the processes, the technology as well the difficult decisions around people had to be taken. In my view, ZCDC is on an upward trajectory in terms of achieving its aspirations of becoming a world-class diamond producer for the long-term benefit of the nation. In this regard, I feel that I have executed the mandate which I got from the shareholder well and as such, I feel content that the organisation is now sustainably set.
In your role as a CEO, what challenges do you see ahead for ZCDC?
As I have previously indicated that the business is on a sound footing, there are however issues related to access of our product to international markets due to restrictions placed on the country.
You were reappointed as CEO during the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when the Zimbabwe government was seeking to transform the diamond sector. How did you navigate these difficult times?
The Covid-19 pandemic ravaged many businesses globally. We as ZCDC had to brave the pandemic by developing a sound and robust business continuity plan, which saw us, ride the wave of the pandemic. This approach saw us make headway during the difficult times despite having up to 400 employees being infected with the disease. The organisation undertook to take great care of its employees by equipping its health facilities with all the requisite equipment to take care of all Covid-19 related ailments.
In addition to the health-related interventions, technology played a vital role in the overall business continuity plan. All employee engagements within the organisation as well as outside of the organisation were done on virtual platforms, for example, all our daily production meetings were done virtually. About 20% of our employees who were not working in the production environment were working from home after we equipped them with the requisite ICT tools. The key focus was to reduce and/or eliminate human interaction. In some business processes, technology was employed to augment human efforts, e.g. drone technology was employed for the security of diamonds including remote surveillance cameras to ensure zero pilferage in the operations.
Furthermore, drones were used as the medium for creating awareness within the employee base as well as the surrounding communities from which up to 45% of our employee base comes from. With all these interventions including the government sponsored vaccination programme, at which as an organisation we are 100% fully vaccinated, we were able to ride the covid-19 pandemic and kept the business operating. Unfortunately, we lost two of our colleague employees. May their souls rest in eternal peace.
Describe your journey from an aspirational young man to a highly experienced metallurgist. What advice would you give to other aspiring engineers?
I am a Professional Engineer with a BSc (Hons) Engineering degree in the discipline of Metallurgical Engineering from University of Zimbabwe (1992) (UZ Book prize). I also hold a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Studies (2000), Master in Business Administration (MBA) (2001) (Best Student) from New Buckinghamshire Chiltern’s University (UK). I am also a proud holder of a Master of Philosophy (MPhil-Information and Knowledge Management) Degree (Stellenbosch – 2008) and currently working on completing my DBA degree. I have been in the mining industry for nearly three decades to date and most of my experience has been starting new mining operations from inception, such as Auridiam Zimbabwe’s River Ranch Diamond Mine, BHP Minerals’ Hartley Platinum, now under ZimPlats, Diamond operations in Botswana and our own ZCDC’s Chiadzwa Diamond Mines both prior and post consolidation of diamond mines phase in 2015. I have also done significant work across the globe, in countries like Angola, DRC and RSA on brownfield diamond projects across the diamond value chain.
At this stage of my career, what I can advise the young and upcoming engineers is that there is no replacement for hard work. A good and credible reputation is earned through being a diligent, focused, principled, smart and ethical professional. Such is what is needed for one to become a shining example in the highly competitive global mining industry.
The Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (Pvt) Ltd (ZCDC) is a diamond mining company wholly owned by the Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development. The company has its mining operations in Manicaland’s Chiadzwa and Chimanimani areas. ZCDC is a creation of the Zimbabwe government following its 2015 policy on consolidation of diamond mines in the country, through which it sought to ensure transparency, accountability and global marketing of Zimbabwe’s diamonds.
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