Spurred on by a desire to do good and make a difference in society, Refiloe Vengeni fell into her career in mining law while doing her articles at Hogan Lovells back in 2014.
As a candidate attorney, Vengeni had to rotate across three different departments to gain experience over an eight month period. She started out in insurance litigation before moving to the mining practice as her second placement. But because it proved such a good fit for Vengeni and the rest of the mining team, she never made it to a third department.
“When I started out, I didn’t even know there was a sector of law dedicated to the mining industry,” Vengeni said. “At varsity level you focus on the bigger categories – family, corporate, commercial – so for young lawyers, it is sometimes just not knowing how extensive your options are.”
Another challenge for young lawyers considering a career in mining law is the vast amount of legislation that applies, not just from the mining regulator but also health and safety and environmental laws.
“It’s grappling with the different statutes and legislation that’s the most difficult in the beginning,” she clarified.
Having started at Hogan Lovells, the mining team departed for Eversheds Sutherland before later splitting off and launching as Beech Veltman in 2020. Vengeni has risen quickly through the ranks, progressing from candidate attorney to associate to senior associate and then director in just six years. Vengeni says she owes her meteoric rise to buckling down and taking initiative while also listening to criticism and then striving to improve.
“This is such an intensive career. The only way to be successful is just to make sure you stay on top of the law, to read as much as you can and to be resourceful – don’t wait to be given the work, offer your services,” she said. “If people see that you are doing more than the bare minimum, that will help progress your career a bit faster.”
As a director in the firm’s Gauteng office, Vengeni focuses her mining law practice on health and safety, regulation and commercial litigation.
Another role Vengeni is passionate about is encouraging the growth and development of women in the mining industry through her involvement with non-profit organisations including Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA) and Women in Mining Business (WiMBIZ). Both organisations are aimed at getting more women into the mining industry, including owning mining-related businesses such as exploration companies.
At WiMBIZ, Vengeni is helping women—and young women in particular—learn how to start a business, from the business proposal to financial planning and then who to approach for potential funding and how to pitch to them.
“We share experiences from our networks and backgrounds and we invite students and business women to be mentored by experienced professionals; that is a great thing,” Vengeni enthused.
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