Marietjie Reynecke started life as an extremely shy child, until at the age of ten, she discovered karate. “I think that’s where I learned to have self-control and self-confidence. I was competing and winning against boys, and I have a whole load of medals to show for it!” – a fact her living room shelf, weighed down with gold statues, is testament to.
At school, Marietjie says she did well without being the top performer in every class. “My parents were always supportive of everything I did and this is what I believe made me a success. I studied geography and geology at the University of Pretoria simply because I loved these subjects and found them interesting. My parents told me ‘the world is yours, do whatever you want as long as you are happy. We’ll be there for you’ and that is exactly what I did.”
Although she grew up in the shadow of the world-famous Cullinan Diamond mine in Pretoria – where the world’s largest rough-gem diamond was found at more than 3,100 carats – the diamond industry caught Marietjie’s eye by accident. “I never knew about this place that was literally right on my front porch. My aunt spotted a tiny advert in the smalls of the newspaper with a position of an environmental officer. That’s how it all started. ”
Marietjie’s first role was to go out into the field in Pretoria to conduct bore hole analysis, water sampling and dust samples. “I enjoyed it a lot, running around farms taking samples. My employers soon realised my potential and I quickly had more responsibilities.”
After four years at De Beers Group, Marijetjie was promoted into a supervisory position. Then in 2008, when Petra Diamonds bought the mine and was seeking an environmental lead, Marietjie learned she was the natural choice. “I can happily say that my journey to management has been straight forward from day one.
“Although I am a woman in an industry which traditionally is very male, I have always found support and encouragement.”
“There have been times I’ve come across that old guard of men who are more used to seeing women at home than in the workplace, but I found ways to befriend them and show them we can do what men can do.”
As an environmental manager, Marietje is pioneering Petra Diamond’s program to phase out plastic and manage water waste and recycling. “I’m proud to say my team has reduced combined waste by 38% in under two years. We’ve also recycled between 95-98% water used in our 115-year-old mine by painstakingly identifying external sources we could shut off. We are hugely limiting our use of natural resources so we don’t take anything away from communities or our ecology.”
Another aspect of Marietje’s work is deeply rooted in wildlife conservation. Combined, these initiatives are helping Petra Diamonds work towards the Global Goals set by the United Nations. “I’ve really enjoyed the work we’ve done to help track and protect South Africa’s unique Secretary Bird population. We funded a lot of research, we tagged baby birds with trackers and learned their behaviour to prevent mortalities.”
To help other women pursue rewarding careers in the diamond world, Marietjie is part of Petra Diamond’s ‘Women in Mining’ project. “Through this, we try to bring in as many women into our business as possible. We recently brought in a female environmental engineer specialising in water management to work on our waste and recycling initiatives, who graduated from university last year. This is really rewarding to be part of.”
Looking back over her sixteen-year career, Marietjie, who recently became a grandmother, says she has no doubt she has found her dream job. “We have no planet B. It is only when we work together towards a common goal – ZERO HARM – that the environment will be protected and all living things, including humans, will reap the benefits.”
Her advice to girls wanting to follow in her footsteps and help preserve our planet for future generations is “Go for it! Environmental management is extremely rewarding. Study well at school, choose subjects like science, math and geography. The change you can make in the world is huge.”