Amplats welcomes new woman leader, Natascha Viljoen

Amplats welcomes new woman leader, Natascha Viljoen
JOHANNESBURG – Natascha Viljoen on Thursday joined the growing list of women leaders in South Africa's mining industry after being appointed as chief executive at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) effective from April.

Viljoen, who heads Anglo American’s processing division, was appointed to head the group following Chris Griffith’s unexpected resignation this week.

Griffith, who managed to pull Amplats from near collapse to a cash-flush operation with strong margins on higher metal prices and strong market fundamentals, resigned on Monday after seven years at the helm.

“I feel really excited to take on my new role at Anglo American Platinum and I am fortunate to inherit a business in such a strong position,” said Viljoen, adding that Griffith had reshaped the group’s platinum group metals (PGM) portfolio to be fit for the future.

Amplats, one of the world's biggest PGM producers, had said it would look internally for Griffith’s replacement.

Viljoen began her career as an engineer at Iscor, currently known as ArcelorMittal South Africa, and is a well-rounded manager having previously managed BHP’s Klipspruit Colliery before joining Lonmin, where she served as executive vice-president of processing.

She is the latest female appointment in Anglo American's local assets after Nolitha Fakude was appointed as chairperson of Anglo American's management board in South Africa last September. Previously Cynthia Caroll was chief executive of Anglo American, the parent company, which owns 77 percent of Amplats.

Other women leaders in South Africa's mining industry are Zanele Matlala, the chief executive at Merafe Resources, and Deshnee Naidoo, the chief executive at Vedanta’s Zinc International.

Viljoen, 49, will have to contend with the recalcitrant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which led a five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations last year.

Amcu also led 70 000 members in a wage strike across the platinum belt in 2014.

Rene Hochreiter, a consulting mining analyst at Noah Capital Markets and Sieberana Research said given the positive price metal environment, Viljoen had to ensure the company grew to better heights.

“Her biggest priority will be to maintain the momentum of the team,” said Hochreiter, adding that the positive PGM fundamentals were a boost for her leadership.

“I think this is a good company procedural appointment and covers the technical and environmental, social, and governance requirements for both Anglos and Anglo Platinum,” said Hochreiter adding that the appointment was a vote of confidence for women leaders.

This week Amplats rewarded its shareholders with a 368 percent increase in total dividend to R14.2 billion, or R52.60 a share for the year ending December 2019, representing the second biggest dividend since 2006, when it declared a dividend of R53 a share.

Amplats achieved a 27 percent increase in the PGMs bask price, largely due to palladium and rhodium, which recorded increases of 48 and 73 percent respectively.

Amplats chairperson Norman Mbazima said Viljoen was a seasoned senior executive, bringing 28 years of operational experience across mining industry, spanning many different countries, metals and minerals, including the PGMs.

“She knows us and our business well, having worked with our executive team over the last five years in leading the changes required to transform the performance of – and commercial value from – our processing operations,” said Mbazima.

Amplats shares declined 2.56 percent on the JSE on Thursday to close at R1360.