The art of drive and focus

SMART Mining Security Solutions 2023 Editor's Choice, Mining (Industry)

South Africa is the most expensive country in the world for mining gold, with numerous organisations whittling their SA activities down in recent years. Meanwhile, the mining industry at large consumes up to 30% of Eskom’s power supply, making electricity (after labour), the standout cost (Reuters, 2022) and while many mines have been implementing innovative responses to these challenges, there is some way still to go.

Specialist security companies that serve the mining industry must remain innovative. It is in this space that we find our feature Woman in Security, Riette Smeda.


Riette Smeda.

Entrepreneurially minded folk are a special kind of person – determined, innovative, creative, motivated, and completely unafraid. Riette displays these qualities in excess. I am not surprised to discover therefore, that she has indeed started up and sold numerous entrepreneurial endeavours in a career that has spanned decades.

Riette is the Technical Manager for Xone Integrated Security, a specialised security service provider with a niche focus on maximising the value obtainable through the control room environment. Her company’s offering to the mining community aims at reducing losses, syndicate arrests, decreased risk, enhanced productivity, and improved health and safety, with measurability tools and detailed professional reporting the likes of which is somewhat unique.

My first question of Riette is the pivotal question: “How on earth did you end up working in the security services sector?” Her answer is one frequently expressed: Riette did not find security; security found her.

Her intention had been to complete a BCom after she matriculated, but circumstances at the time meant that she needed to start working immediately after school. She applied to First National Bank, securing a position in the typing pool, where she worked until she married.

Then, when her only son started Grade 1, it was back to work for the young mum. She was offered a position as a salesperson with a Xerox distributor. Her only exposure to printers until then had been a wary approach to a little dot matrix unit. Yet, here she was, being offered the opportunity to sell Xerox printers, valued at the time at a good eighty-thousand rand a pop.

Riette did what any entrepreneurially minded woman would do, and leapt at the opportunity.

If a housewife can do it …

Then, three days into her new role, she became extremely ill, which meant missing her initial on-job training. Riette was home and in bed recovering when she received her first phone call from a prospective client. She had no product material on hand and absolutely no industry knowledge. Neither really did the client. What she did have, was a pricelist, and bucketloads of gusto, so she hustled her way through that first call and ended up selling not just one but all three of the high-end units that she had been allocated to sell.

Her new company advocated her as its star employee, telling the sales team, “If a housewife can do this, so can any of you.” (Riette and I had a good chuckle at that one.)

The pressure was on to sell. Ever resourceful, Riette purchased a bakkie, driving as far afield as Polokwane, with printers loaded in the back. She soon became one of the top sales executives in the business, which led to a call from a software solutions provider looking for a great sales rep, so she made the move from hardware into software.

Several successful years later and newly divorced, Riette felt the need for a career change. She approached a recruiter for help. A twenty-minute initial interview culminated in the consultancy asking her to join its team the same day.

So began a successful shift from direct sales into recruitment.

Shortly thereafter, however, the consultancy was unexpectedly sold, and its recruitment division closed. Suddenly, this single mum found herself unemployed. Riette did what any entrepreneur would do; she started her own recruitment company with nothing but an old laptop and a vision. Eyetla Placement Solutions was thus born and Riette did incredibly well in the recruitment space for the next several years.

Which brings us to how the security industry found Riette.

You cannot hide from security

One of her Eyetla clients put her in touch with another client, which just so happened to be looking for a set of very specific skills. That company turned out to be the Fidelity Services Group. Curious about what Fidelity was after and keen to see if she could help, Riette visited Fidelity’s Roodepoort offices just before Christmas. Yet again, she was offered the role on the spot. Riette took another leap.

Her new role essentially involved the on-site training of all staff on the company’s new online OB system.

Hardware, software, sales, recruitment and now training. An excellent security industry generalist was clearly in the making. Only manpower operations was missing from the mix.

A series of circumstances presented Riette with the opportunity to start up her own security manpower company and she fondly relates how she found and secured her very first client. She had driven past an engineering organisation and noticed that the security at its main gate seemed a little sub-standard. She decided to test her impression, managing to talk her way through the gate, past reception, and right into an office corridor. Venturing into the first office to her left, she found herself face to face with the security manager himself.

She quoted. He accepted.

Project management and SOPs

Now, having secured the contract, she needed to recruit, train, uniform, design processes, and place a compliment of 21 officers, all within the space of two weeks. She convinced her new client to pay his first invoice in advance, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Riette feels that her success as a security manpower provider lay in the fact that she was extremely strict about the requisite registrations, and that she has always understood the importance of processes on a site. Indeed, as we chat, it seems to me that project management and security operations simply come naturally to her.

Riette acknowledges that she was out of her depth when first recruited to Xone in 2016. She made use of every opportunity provided by the product manufacturers and distributors, both for training, and to build relationships with these product experts, on whom she knew she would need to lean on. “Working in technology, everyday there is something new to learn – just when you think you have finally figured it all out.”

As a woman without a qualification in a STEM field, it took some time before male technicians were willing to accept her leadership on projects. She has had to work hard to earn the trust of her colleagues, but she has tackled this challenge with as much gusto as she tackles every other, and ultimately a warm mutual respect has resulted. It was also necessary to help both clients and technicians to understand that she is not expected to be the technical expert in a detailed sense, but rather to be the project manager, which requires an overarching approach.

Her project management acumen has seen Riette form part of the team starting up many of Xone’s sites in the mining space. The recruitment process for the mining industry is particularly rigorous and she has drawn on her range of experience to add her unique skillset to the many hours that go into onboarding a site. Riette is convinced that a team must be well trained, well managed, and that a professional project plan is imperative. “In security, you simply take no shortcuts.”

Support and opposition in the security industry

I asked if she has experienced any challenges as a woman within the industry at large. Riette admits that there have been times when she has felt approached as ‘just a woman’. Her Director, Frik Wiese, however, has been phenomenal in his support, and Xone, itself, has gone so far as to decline to continue to work with one client in support of Riette, after one particularly nasty misogynistic incident.

In terms of the challenges that she faces on-job, Riette feels that syndicates are a pressing problem. “It is not a question of if, but rather of when staff will be approached to collude.” Hence, her company’s strong focus on modern data analysis.

If there are a few things that she would like to see change within the industry, top of her list would be the introduction of the words ‘risk management’ rather than ‘security’. She also believes that there is still much misunderstanding amongst clients about the importance of integrating manpower and security via a benchmark command and control operation. Like many of the women whom we have interviewed, Riette is also saddened by the fact that security is still approached as a grudge purchase in South Africa, causing the country to fall further behind global trends.

I ask Riette if she would encourage other young women to become involved in the industry and the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” She does offer a caution: the security industry can be cutthroat, and regardless of role, security services is definitely not an eight to five career. However, Riette feels that any woman with great communication skills, focus, attention to detail, the ability to stand her ground, and oodles of patience, can make a success of a career in the security space.

In fact, she frequently encounters female control room operators who display all of these qualities and more. The most important quality? “Oh, that is absolutely that you must have the right mindset.” Riette believes that without a driven mindset, the security space will be daunting for many.

Today Riette is re-married to the ‘good-natured Quinton’, and her son is almost 26. I ask her about her interests outside of work and the security industry, and she relates without hesitation how, during the sometimes dark and difficult weeks of COVID lock down, she decided that she really needed to bring some colour into her life. With a chuckle, she tells me that she decided that painting would be a better option for the figure than baking; she rooted out a kit, gifted to her years before, bought a canvass, and began watching You Tube tutorials. I head over to her Instagram profile, to discover that the results of her acrylic pouring work are beautiful. Not bad for a budding artist who, until three years ago, had no idea that she was one.

Riette Smeda can be contacted on +27 72 987 2044, [email protected].

Lesley-Anne Kleyn is a consultant working across a range of sectors, assisting clients to build their businesses into profitable, impactful and enduring entities. With many clients in the security services sector too, she is a member of the board of ASIS International, heading up Women in Security. To join the conversation, contact her on +27 64 410 8563, or reach out on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lesleyannekleyn.

Xone is at www.xone.co.za.


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