It is an early autumn morning in Berlin, Germany –  Kumbirai Chipadza, co-founder and director of Sales and Marketing at Kuchera, shares his story with the same passion and insight that led him and his business partners to propose a human-centric, digital solution that, today, is adding value to the mining sector and driving positive change for communities globally.

Rare amatuer footage of mines in Zimbabwe in 1952, including coverage of the workings and living areas of the (then) Shabanie Mine (also Shabani, now known as Zvishavane), various Gath's mines and the Maglas village, concluding with a celebration – dances and feats of endurance. Image supplied by Maxustaxus

Rare amatuer footage of mines in Zimbabwe in 1952, including coverage of the workings and living areas of the (then) Shabanie Mine (also Shabani, now known as Zvishavane), various Gath’s mines and the Maglas village, concluding with a celebration – dances and feats of endurance. Image supplied by Maxustaxus

The beginning of the end: mine closure and its impact

Chipadza grew up in Zvishavane, a mining town in Zimbabwe, located in the resource-rich Great Dyke area boasting gold and platinum, among other treasures. This town, although small, had a lifestyle that outshone even the bigger cities at the time.

However, the prosperity did not last. When one of the world’s largest asbestos mines closed down on his childhood doorstep, Chipadza watched as the ripple effect devastated his community.

Overnight – jobs were lost and families dependent on the mine for their livelihoods were suddenly left with nothing. Once lively and vibrant, the town quickly faded into a ghost town. Streets emptied, families fell apart, and the community struggled to cope with the sudden change. The economic blow was massive, but perhaps more devastating was the toll it took on the community’s mental health. Suicides increased, and a pervasive sense of despair settled over the town.

With the mine gone – illegal mining activities surged. Young men, desperate for work, resorted to dangerous and unregulated practices. This only led to further societal disruption and the pervasive effect of violence in the community. The environmental impact was just as severe. The asbestos left a legacy of ill health, including a rise in asthma and tuberculosis. Chipadza, himself developed asthma.

In the wake of the mine’s closure, Chipadza and his community faced a bleak future. “If there was any hope left, it had been buried under the mine’s mismanagement and subsequent collapse,” says Chipadza.

Mining efficiency uplifts

Then, years after the Zvishavane mine closed down, Chipadza’s hometown got a taste of its former life when the Mimosa platinum mine opened. Mimosa invested in the community and drove positive, sustainable change. New houses were built, community share ownership programmes implemented, and the mine contributed to local education and sports facilities.

This new approach revitalised the town. The local football team, FC Platinum (sponsored by the mine) won the Zimbabwean league three years in a row, quickly becoming a source of pride for the whole town.

For Chipadza, the success of the Mimosa mine meant more than sporting achievements and regular income. It was an example of how efficient mining operations can uplift a community – a stark contrast to how inefficient mining operations can devastate families and lead to societal collapse. “When a mine strives for greater efficiency and sustainability, it becomes a catalyst for empowering the local community and fostering collective prosperity,” he says.

A new hope: Chipadza’s vision

Chipadza’s vision for a new business was born from a deep-seated belief that things could be done differently and better to positively impact mining communities.

As an entrepreneur – honoured as the Ortel African Entrepreneur of the Year in Germany in 2022 and chosen as one of 40 emerging business leaders in 2021 through the AGYLE Program – Chipadza set out with his partners Mxolisi Sibiya and Chris Hugger to develop digital human-centric solutions that would bridge the gap between humans and technology, increase efficiencies in mining and contribute to the progress of communities globally.

It was during the validation phase of the Beam Berlin project, which involved around six months of intense research and solution development for Kuchera, that Chipadza discovered that the people he had grown up with in Zimbabwe were now working in mines worldwide – from America to Australia – as a result of globalisation. However, he noted that even in wealthier, developed countries, the mining industry was hesitant to invest heavily in technology, like autonomous machines, due to the high costs involved.

Instead, mines were looking for cost-effective ways to enhance productivity. This gap in the market is where he saw an opportunity for Kuchera’s solution and, by extension, an opportunity to benefit the people at the heart of any mining story.

Kumbirai Chipadza at the Deutsch-Chilenisches Mining Forum in Berlin. Image supplied by Kuchera

Kumbirai Chipadza at the Deutsch-Chilenisches Mining Forum in Berlin. Image supplied by Kuchera

Blueprint for a future – green and healthy

“The Kuchera solution takes a human approach to telematics through augmented intelligence, putting people at the heart of our processes rather than replacing them,” he explains.

Harnessing the power of augmented intelligence and gamification, Kuchera strives to boost fleet availability, productivity, safety and sustainability for off-highway vehicles. The company offers an augmented intelligence and optimisation platform to enable standardised operator behaviour and monitoring of mining fleet health in real time, and in addition, optimised and cost-effective alternative haulage solutions for each specific operation, resulting in substantial cost savings, increased output and improved sustainability.

Derived from the Shona language, the name “Kuchera” means to “extract”, perfectly encapsulating the company’s vision of extracting valuable insights to optimise mining haulage operations. Chipadza emphasises, “When a mining operation is optimised, efficient and profitable it can, in turn, offer reliable employment sustainably with resultant benefits for host communities. It is a cycle that, if sustained, offers a better future for everyone.

“Optimised and efficient work environments do not simply mean greater profits. They also reduce stress and improve mental health for managers and drivers. Reliable data and realistic targets lead to happier employees and this positivity spills over into homes, leading to healthier families and communities.”

Kuchera aligns itself with the spirit of positive disruption. “Our solution unlocks greater efficiency, agility and sustainability without sacrificing what matters most – people,” concludes Chipadza.

Successful mining – built on safe, healthy, efficient people

In late 2023, Chipadza and the team were actively preparing for another significant deployment with partners at Bothakga Burrow Botswana, focusing on the operations at Morupule Coal Mine – one of Botswana’s largest coal mines. As the first half of 2024 unfolds, the Kuchera team is set to explore more partnerships in South Africa, showcasing the remarkable potential of human-centric mining solutions.

“Augmented intelligent tech empowers people rather than replacing them. It is the bridge between a futuristic, highly digital world and the one we live in today – supporting rather than commanding, guiding rather than controlling,” says Chipadza.

Key areas where Kuchera strives to make an impact:

    • Empowering with actionable data – the key to boosting productivity lies in empowering driver operators with actionable data-driven insights enabling them to maximise productivity effectively. “It’s not just about working harder; it’s about working smarter.” The Kuchera solution allows operations managers off-site, real-time information and insights into load and haul operations all the time, enabling efficient management.
    • Consistency through standardisation – the company standardises processes leading to predictable and controlled operations. Predictability is key in order to plan and optimise machinery availability, in turn reducing downtime and boosting resource availability.
    • Improving safety with real-time monitoring – Safety is significantly improved through real-time monitoring of driver behaviour and site conditions. Kuchera’s system allows customised recommendations for safer mining operations tailored to each driver’s unique scenario. For example, advising drivers on the optimal gear usage or speed in certain areas enhances safety. Moreover, the system can adapt to environmental changes, like rain, and provide drivers with clear recommendations on how to navigate altered terrain.
    • Proactive problem-solving, resource management – real-time monitoring of resource usage, like fuel consumption, can identify discrepancies immediately and alert managers to excessive fuel usage or idling. Issues can be addressed as they occur rather than waiting for post-event reports.
    • Precision reduces driver stress – Introducing clear, standardised processes is integral to fostering happier employees and communities, and ultimately more successful mines.