MASERU — Nyakallo Mpatuoa, 55, who was appointed the managing director at Mothae Diamonds last week, has always been fascinated by rocks.
Her love for geology was stirred while she was a young student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in the early 1970s while studying for a Bachelor of Science general degree.
In 1976 Mpatuoa (pictured right) dropped out of her Bachelor of Science studies at NUL to pursue studies in geology in Canada.
“I got intrigued by geology when officials from the Department of Geology and Mines visited NUL for a career guidance session.
“They told us that Canada offered scholarships for different engineering courses including geology.
“I knew nothing about geology then,” Mpatuoa told the Lesotho Times on Monday.
But it was in that session that her love for geology was planted and later nurtured.
She then enrolled for a geology degree at the University of Manasota in Canada in 1976.
And almost 35 years later, her love for geology is still as strong as ever.
Last week, Mpatuoa’s career reached another milestone when she was appointed managing director at Mothae Diamonds.
With her appointment, Mpatuoa joins a small band of women running large mining companies in Lesotho.
Lucara Diamonds holds a 75 percent stake in Mothae Diamonds.
The government of Lesotho holds the rest of the shares.
Mpatuoa says she has big plans for Mothae Diamonds based on her wealth of experience garnered over the years in the mining sector.
“I hope to see Mothae develop into a commercial mine, employing Basotho nationals, and contributing to economic development of the country,” she says.
Mpatuoa is no stranger in the mining sector, having served as commissioner of mines for almost 10 years.
“I know what is required to start up mining operations and how hard it is to source funding for such huge projects,” she says.
She says she brings to Mothae a wealth of experience gained from being directly involved in the mining industry for years.
Mpatuoa says she wants to ensure that Mothae avoids mistakes that have been committed by mining firms in the past and ensure that they develop the communities in which they operate.
“I want to help Mothae not to make mistakes that were committed in the past and hope to grow it into a commercially viable mine,” she says.
Production at Mothae, which kicked off last Monday, is currently on a trial phase and will continue over the next 24 months, according to Mpatuoa.
Thereafter, the company will conduct a proper assessment of the resource grade.
“The plan is that we will go into commercial production in the next two years, after we have established the resource value at the mine,” Mpatuoa said.
She says the first diamond tender will be conducted in September to give an indication of the value of diamonds at Mothae.
A new plant to be commissioned at Mothae will have a processing capacity of 70 000 tonnes per hour.
About 7 050 carats are expected from the 150 000 tonnes that will be processed in the next 24 months.
Mpatuoa says they now had bigger expectations following the discovery of a 53.5 carat diamond at Mothae last week.
“It was very exciting to recover a diamond greater than 10 carats in the first week of production.
“We hope to recover high value diamonds in the coming months. Lesotho is known for high quality diamonds so we believe there are high value diamonds at Mothae,” she says.
The prices of rough diamonds have recovered in the last few months against a background of short supply on the market.
“Forecasts indicate that prices will start to steady in the last quarter of this year through the first quarter of next year. We hope that prices will keep on firming,” she says.
Mpatuoa says she is regularly in touch with activities on the ground as she oversees the current staff complement of six.
The rest of the operations at Mothae Diamonds mine are outsourced to contractors.
Mpatuoa was appointed commissioner of mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources in 2001 and served in that capacity until she resigned to join the private sector in April.
She has also worked in the Department of Geology and the Ministry of Natural Resources since 1980.
Apart from her geology degree, she also holds a post-graduate diploma in geology from ITC in Holland.
Mpatuoa was born in Teyateyaneng in Berea district in 1955 and did her primary and high school education at St Agnes.
She then proceeded to the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (now called NUL) for a Bachelor of Science degree.
Two years later she quit her BSc studies to pursue geology in Canada.
She credits her success to her mother.
“My mother was a very strong woman and did all she could to ensure that we went through proper schooling and had a good upbringing,” Mpatuoa says.