The glamour of the red carpet at Cannes or Hollywood is a far cry from the hot and dusty pit of the world’s single largest producing emerald mine, Kagem in Lufwanyama.
But for the team at the mine, the excitement of seeing Zambia’s emeralds on the world stage makes their job worthwhile.
For one of the mine’s longest serving employees, Senior Manager for Planning and Surveying, Aaron Nyangu, it is the culmination of years of training, experience and hard work that he is now passing on to the next generation of mining engineers.
“I feel proud to see those celebrities wearing our emeralds from Kagem. It’s a great feeling,” says Nyangu enthusiastically.
Nyangu is one of Kagem’s skilled staff, working to optimise production at the mine, combining the latest cutting-edge mining technology and investment from parent company Gemfields in order to unlock Zambia’s natural resource of responsibly sourced gemstones.
‘Attention to detail’ is the secret of success according to Nyangu, who is responsible for gathering and analysing the survey data that will inform planning decisions on how best to execute mine operations.
“First you must understand what the company - requires of you, and then you provide that information. Surveyors are data collectors; you collect data and you use the same data from exploration to do the planning and then the management.
"You must be meticulous because the numbers you give will be used to plan and invest in the future, so you really have to be spot on,” he explains.
Nyangu started off as a surveyor earlier on in the life of the mine before taking on the additional role of a planner under the company’s then newly instituted Production Planning and Exploration Department several years later.
“We do a plan of the pit; management will give a pushback which we need to do. A push back may be around 100 m then you plan how you are going to access your “ore” in that 100 m,” explains Nyangu who then goes on to calculate the volumes and tonnages of waste going to be moved and how much ore is available.
For close to 21 years, Kagem has been home to the professional surveyor who likes to jest that he grew up at the mine and who has witnessed a greater part of its transformation from its early days as a government entity, to when Gemfields took over operations of the mine in 2008 in a partnership with government, growing with the company to its current position as the world’s largest producer of emeralds.
“I call Kagem the place where I grew up. I’ve grown up with the pit. I came here when I was in my early 30s, brought here by the then general manager.
"Prior to 2008 when Gemfields took over from the predecessors, the pit was not as big as it is now. We used to move between 80,000 and 100,000 tpm; now we are moving over a Mt every month. I’ve come a long way in my career and I’ve seen the pit grow so it’s been an exciting experience,” highlights Nyangu.
The arrival of Gemfields meant new technology, new machines, computers – which he taught himself to operate - bringing greater accuracy that was necessary due to the large volumes of ore that had to be dealt with.
“I graduated from that small pit; so now you plan for bigger pits, more dump trucks and every month we do the calculations and reconciliations of what had been planned and what has been achieved and then we move forward with planning against production.
"This time production has actually gone up – with the year in comparison to when it first began operating and when Gemfields took over,” he notes.
Nyangu is quick to admit that keeping a cool head and focused mind around the workplace is imperative, as mining is a serious and demanding career that calls for the strictest discipline, helping to keep himself safe on the job as well as his colleagues.
One of the things that the senior manager has come to appreciate is the need to apportion his time between work and family.
“I leave my family every Monday to come and work here. It’s best to sort out home issues before you come to work so that you can give your best in both,” he advises.
Teamwork and communication is another area that is very important to him and he advises that there is no place for ‘self’ in the company, but that each individual and unit works as a collective team to ensure the job runs smoothly.
“I do love it, but you cannot do it alone. You have other people around you who will help you to do this; it’s quite an art knowing how to get information from other people,” he explains.
Through the years Nyangu has amassed experience and knowledge in his field that he is keen to pass on to upcoming generations.
“I’ve spent 20 years in a gemstone mine like Kagem; I have learnt a lot. I think age is catching up with me, so I’ll pass it on to the next generation and then encourage them to learn what it takes to make it in a place like Kagem,” he adds.
Nyangu has come to understand and appreciate the clientele for the gemstone industry and believes that this knowledge should drive the work attitudes and the way the emeralds are handled throughout the production process as customers are willing to spend so much in order to gift loved ones or own coloured gemstones.