Today marks the 18th anniversary of democracy in South Africa. On this day in 1994, people of colour were allowed to vote for the first time, ending Apartheid and white minority-rule in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela being elected into presidency.

Since then, our country has come quite a way! We now have our third democratically-elected president, equal rights for women and all races live in peace and harmony. Ok, maybe thats a bit too optimistic, but in the short time that we have been free, a lot has been done to further equality in my country.  It’s hard to imagine the very different world my mother and father grew up in.

For starters, it was close to impossible for non-whites to study engineering during Apartheid.  In fact, most of the private-sector was closed off to non-whites due to the harsh racist laws imposed.  Most promising young people went into fields such as medicine and law fields that allowed them to practise their professions within their communities. This is why doctors and lawyers are still highly revered in the Indian community of South Africa. (My dentist told me that he would have been an engineer if he had had the opportunity.)

On the other hand, globally, womens’ rights in the education system and the workplace have greatly improved over the last few decade. Part of South Africa’s Constitution, written shortly after Nelson Mandela became leader of our country, creates a platform for women to have equal rights to men in all regards. Over the last decade in particular, the country have implemented key policies to see this dream manifest. As a result, companies in South Africa’s largest industry – one that hires the most amount of engineers in the country – has started realising the value that women add in the workplace.

Mining in South Africa is by far the most important sector of our economy – a large piece of the pie which until recently had been completely closed off to non-whites and women.  Due to legislation, women have been encouraged and aided into careers in the mining industry – from both a developmental/ technical standpoint, as well as a business and leadership one. Despite the support women get, most still bear the brunt of discrimination in its many forms in the workplace. As elsewhere in the world, this is changing, however slowly.

Working in this space, I have been fortunate to encounter amazing women who have managed to make their mark in the toughest of industries despite real challenges.  So much has changed in the last 18years that its impossible to imagine how my life would have been in those days. I am really grateful to the men and women who sacrificed their freedom, reputation, careers and even lives to bring freedom to me and every other South African.