CFO Riaan Davel: An eco-champion for DRDGold

Riaan is using his work ethic and hard-gained knowledge to rehabilitate areas historically damaged by mining.

Riaan Davel is a Joburger at heart. Born and bred in the East Rand community of Kempton Park, which was characterised by industrious, hardworking men and women, he knows the power of hard work and weaves it into everything he does. 

Riaan joined DRDGold, a JSE-listed company that re-mines gold by re-processing the mini-mountains of sand and slime that contain historic remnants in January 2015. The move to DRDGold followed 17 years in the professional services industry, where the majority of his experience was garnered in the mining industry, providing assurance and advisory services, including support and training on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) to clients and teams across the African continent. 

Now, Riaan is pouring his deep knowledge into the DRDGold’s efforts to rehabilitate areas damaged by the history of mining. “We are doing our best to do this while trying to minimise the impact of mining operations and addressing things such as dust and water pollution on the environment. We reclaim and treat mine dumps and in the process free up valuable land for reuse.” 

The company’s approach to environmental management is part of its broader commitment to sustainable development. One example is that they use recycled acid mine drainage and sewerage water in their operations, which is both cheaper than using potable water, and reduces their use of natural resources and impact on the environment. 

This integrated approach is also seen in the approach to the support of the communities surrounding the operations. The removal of the dumps permanently rids the communities of dust, and those that aren’t removed are vegetated with indigenous species of grass and shrubs, which also reduces the dust that lifts off them to virtually nothing. This process of revegetating the dumps also provides work for people from the communities. 

DRDGold has also adopted the strategy of concurrent rehabilitation, which means that they begin rehabilitation before a mining or deposition site is closed. This reduces the company’s long-term environmental obligations, and makes it possible for the company to complete rehabilitation very soon after the reserves from each site come to an end. 

As CFO, Riaan is playing an important role in directing DRDGold’s strategic growth so that environmental impact is delivered in tandem with value for the company, shareholders as well as society as a whole. 

The stereotype of the eco advocate is often portrayed as loudly presenting petitions and carrying placards, but for Riaan it looks like adopting and applying the best practicable environmental options to address any issues as well as monitoring, evaluating and reporting the success of the mitigation measures applied. He leverages his experience as an IFRS technical partner, and representation of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants on the International Accounting Standards Board’s project on Extractive Activities.

The skills that prepared him 

With a career rich with mining experience, having worked with clients in the sector while at KPMG for seven years as an audit partner, performing audits of listed companies in the mining industry, including SEC registrants, he has a broad understanding of how mines operate and a knack for identifying where the opportunities to impact positively exist. 

“I enjoy the opportunity to integrate environmental management into the company’s business and planning in order to minimise the influence of its activities on the environment, as well as abide by relevant environmental legislation,” he says.

As a CA, his analytical skills allow him to drive strategy that leverages technology and innovation to protect the environment. Additionally, delivering administrative and contract management efficiencies, and ensuring optimal use of water resources are also areas of focus where the experience gathered from serving on committees that compiled or updated the South African Codes for reporting and valuation of mineral reserves and resources is a huge advantage.

When it comes to convincing others of the importance of safeguarding the environment, Riaan says he tries to lead by example, “I am a participative leader who invests in relationships with those around me. I strive to create a collaborative environment where everyone can play a meaningful role in the team. I bring this out in people by pointing out the benefits of a suggested route. I have realised that in order to be more effective, the team must feel like they are also architects of the solution.” 

This approach is a natural offshoot to his personality, which he describes as easy to work with, approachable. He explains “however, I have very high standards for myself and hold the people I work with to the same ideals.” 

This type of work isn’t about overnight success or rushing to the finish line, it requires commitment, He explains that growing up with parents who worked hard and had a strict work ethic, modelled for him the importance of staying the course. “My dad was a diligent man who not only held down a full time position as an accountant but after a full day at work, would be busy in the evenings with his second job, doing accounts and taxes for small businesses. I learned the value of perseverance from him as well as the ethos of problem solving. Essentially that when you are faced with a challenge, you must make a plan.” 

Beyond the environment 

Davel is also passionate about the company’s poverty alleviation efforts, where the contribution has been in the form of programmes to help families learn how to grow their entire supply of required vegetables. “We teach our beneficiaries to use whatever they have available, even a patch of land as large as a door is a viable enough space to grow food for your family.”  Other programmes include a youth education initiative in the form of extra mathematics, accounting and science classes for matriculants from Tsakane and other high Schools, near the company’s Ergo plant where they support local teachers and have a program for financial literacy to help learners navigate the world of work and business if they venture that direction. 

“Both these skills adopt the principle of teaching people how to fish, rather than just a handout. Impact has been seen in entrepreneurs who have grown from these initiatives, now supporting themselves and their families. Youth education is real empowerment, fosters self-growth, knowledge and puts people as victors in their lives, not as victims and engenders an empowered mind-set.”  

Paying it forward is important to Davel because he has seen the impact of positive influences in his own life, firstly through his father, who he rates as his most pivotal relationship. “His guidance gave me grounding as a young man, and I think my choice to pursue a career in finance was partly due to my own knack for numbers, but also due to the influence of my father who was an accountant. Interestingly, my brother and sister are also professionals in the field.”

Apart from his father, he says, “I have also learned from, been taught by and at times challenged by different colleagues who forced me to think differently or grow in a new area. My now current CEO, Niël Pretorius is also someone I hold in high regard. I share his mission for the environment and admire how he has galvanised the organisation behind the vision.” 

When he’s away from the office, Davel enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, whom he hopes will grow into happy, balanced individuals who understand the value of teamwork, family and contribute to the lives of others based on their individual strengths.