A highly regarded career in mine security

Not in her wildest dreams did a young Hofmeyr girl believe she was destined to head up security at a diamond mine belonging to the famous De Beers Company.

FROM TEACHING TO SECURITY: Retired Bathurst resident, Judy Alexander, spent most of her working life in security with De Beers diamond mines. She became the first woman in the history of the company to be appointed a security manager Picture: BOB FORD

Now retired to Bathurst, Judy Alexander had no plans of following such a career as she had qualified as a teacher.

One of five children born into the well-known farming Vermaak family in the Hofmeyr district, she had an interesting and full life ahead of her.

Alexander started her education at the small local school as a weekly boarder up to Grade 7. She was then sent off as a boarder at the famous Queenstown Girls’ High School, where she soon excelled, particularly on the sports fields. She represented the school in both tennis and hockey, captaining the Border schools side for two years in 1973/4.

Alexander decided to take up teaching as a career and enrolled at the Graaff-Reinet Teachers’ Training College after obtaining her matric. With her love of sport, it was not surprising that she specialised in physical education in her fourth year.

It was during these years, that Judy met her future husband, Jonty, who was also studying to become a teacher.

In 1978, Judy took up her first teaching post at Union High in Graaff- Reinet, where she taught for three years. Meanwhile Jonty was teaching at Selborne in East London and she followed him to the city.  The couple were married in 1983 and she stopped teaching a year later when their first daughter was born.

Four years later the Alexanders’ life took a dramatic change when Jonty accepted a teaching post at the remote De Beers mining town of Kleinzee on the west coast. Judy explained that everyone who lived in the town worked at the nearby mine and all residents had to apply for security clearance before being accepted.

While her husband taught at the local school, Judy’s teaching career came to an end when she was appointed as a recruitment officer at the mine. There was a need for a security training officer at the mine and Judy was appointed to this position in 1991. “I knew absolutely nothing about security and had to learn fast,” she added.

She immediately rectified this by obtaining a diploma in security in the same year through Unisa and then followed this up with another diploma on the subject with Technikon SA. She did particularly well on this course and was awarded the Principal’s Medal for being the best student. Then followed a busy and successful life in mine security as the couple agreed to follow her career.

In 1993 Judy was promoted to security superintendent, access control, and had about 30 people working under her. She explained that security was a taxing job as employees were always trying to find different ways of smuggling diamonds out of the mines. “We caught one miner with several diamonds pushed into his nose,” she said.

As part of security all employees had to be competent with firearms from handguns through to shotguns. These were used as a precaution when diamonds were moved from the mines in aircraft to head office in Johannesburg. Fortunately, these never had to be used during her time.

In 1999, Judy was transferred to Kimberley where she did training and human resources work and two years later she returned to security operations in Koffiefontein. In 2004, she was promoted to manager of security and became the first woman to hold this position within De Beers.

A year later, the couple returned to Kleinzee where she was appointed regional manager of security for the whole of the Namaqualand area. The time the couple spent in this unusual town were perhaps their happiest. The mine provided and maintained excellent sporting facilities and they were able to pursue the various games they enjoyed. It was there that they started playing bowls.

Her life took a change from diamonds in 2008 when she was approached by Lonmin Platinum in Johannesburg and was appointed security manager at their refinery near Springs. But De Beers had not finished with Judy and it was in 2013 that they persuaded her to return to the company as security manager at Musina in Limpopo province.

She retired from there in July, 2017, and the couple moved to Bathurst. It has not taken them long to make their mark in the sporting world with both joining the Kowie Bowls Club. Judy is the recently elected vice president of the club, while Jonty has just taken on the job as men’s captain. He is also a keen golfer.

BY BOB FORD

 

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