The classic scenario, played out in countless books and movies, is that of the small-town girl who escapes to find her fortune in the big city. This one, however plays out in reverse: Mwansa Mambwe from Lusaka leaves the bright lights of the capital to seek work and opportunity in faraway North-Western province.
What did you study after you left school in Lusaka?
I studied Human Resource Management, because I like working with people. My dad was not happy – he wanted me to become a nurse, but I can’t handle blood – I just can’t! My mom was fine with it. She said it’s not your dad’s dream; it’s your dream.
Solwezi is really developing fast because of the economic effect of mining.
What work did you do?
I couldn’t find a job in HR. So, I worked in merchandising for five years, and then took the decision to do a diploma in PR (Public Relations). It would allow me to work with people, something I really like.
What happened then?
I was playing tennis at the Lusaka tennis club one weekend, when I ran into Godfrey Msiska, the head of PR at FQM’s Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi. I’d never met him before. Out of the blue, he asks me what work I’m doing. I say, PR. Oh, he says – I’m looking for someone to work as an intern in my department; why don’t you try your luck?
And you did?
Well, not right away. I knew nothing about mining. I’d never been to North-Western Province. And all my friends warned me about going there – Solwezi is just a village, they said! But I eventually decided to give it a try and emailed my application to them.
Was it successful.
Yes, but it wasn’t going to be an easy move. They asked: are you willing to leave the capital city and come to this place where there’s one main road, no big malls, no cinema? But, I needed to start a new life, experience something different, so I accepted.
How did your new life start?
I packed my personal stuff in my car and drove to Solwezi for the very first time. It was really a big step for me. I remember when I arrived in this strange town, far from home, I was completely overwhelmed. I parked my car in the town centre, and I just cried. But I trusted that things would work out.
What were your first impressions of the mine?
That was an amazing experience! I remember when they first drove me down to see the mine. When I eventually saw the pit, it was amazing. Oh, my God – the size of those trucks! I took pictures and sent them to all my friends.
How did the internship go?
I had to prove myself. I learned how to write news articles, take photographs, do branding. I got to meet traditional rulers , government ministers, the president. It was an incredible learning experience.
And then came the last day of the internship.
Yes. I remember sitting there, wondering if they would take me on permanently. I was warned that the decision depended on the approval of the General Manager and other managers too. I kept my fingers crossed while they decided my fate. Then, they called me to say I had been given a two-year contract!
What was your reaction?
I cried. Again. But this time, it was tears of joy. I was so happy. It had all worked out, and I was starting a new life.
How has mining changed your life?
I’ve become stronger. I’ve learned how to work hard, push myself, take responsibility, I’ve discovered the person I never thought I was.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve learned at work?
I think it’s learning to deal with the local culture. I was taught earlier on that whenever you meet a chief, you should kneel. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or the ground is muddy; you have to kneel. And as a woman, you have to wear a Chitenge wrap – no short skirts or trousers.
And is Solwezi really a village?
No! The people in Lusaka were exaggerating. Solwezi is really developing fast because of mining. People are coming here, lots of infrastructure is being built, homes are being put up. We’ve got malls, shops like Mr. Price and Jet. I’m just waiting for Debonnairs to open up here – I really miss their pizza…
See also: Grace, grit and determination