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series profile: Xoloswa Vando

Life for Xoliswa Vando, a resident of Johannesburg, looks full of opportunity. Of Xhosa decent, she is the first black woman to earn a blasting license in the South African gold mines. But that is not enough for young, ambitious Xoliswa. Her dream is to manage a mining operation on her own in the future. And now that she has passed a crucial exam, her employer, Anglogold, is helping her to achieve that goal.

Since the AFRICA series wrapped, Xoliswa has entered a special program where she attends mining and engineering classes full-time, working in the mine between semesters. She's taking a mixture of industry training classes to give her a better knowledge of mining, as well as management classes such as human resources and finance. At the end of each semester's exam cycle, she returns to work, going back down to the bottom of one of the world's deepest mines.

But it hasn't been easy, Xoliswa says.

Xoliswa acknowledges that she's something of a test-subject to determine how well women might fair in the mining industry. If she does well, she says, other women might follow.

"[W]hen the crews see I can do the work, that is when the men start to take me seriously. Because it is all about safety and looking out for one another. We have a zero-tolerance policy for negligence and accidents in the mine." And that is where Xoliswa's training really comes in, because the more she learns about the physics of mining, the more effectively she will be able to oversee the mining crews that, one day, will work under her.

Xoliswa expects to graduate from Technikon Witwatersrand College with a graduate degree in engineering and mining in July 2002. She hopes to complete the last of her mining licenses later that year. If all goes according to plan, she'll have a mining manager's license by 2003, and be that much closer to realizing her dreams.

Descending into the mines.

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