Pauline Thomas Kahupi is the big sister all of us wish we had. It is impossible to ignore her beaming smile and vibrant energy, she is a lighthouse showing a path toward a better future for all women. An Oranjemund childhood – which she now sees as idyllic and privileged – taught her that she could do anything. But born without a silver spoon in her mouth, she set her sights on diamonds instead. We caught up with her at the 99FM studio to learn more about her philosophies and advice for women finding themselves when feeling lost in a man’s world.
Oshiwambo girl in Oranjemund
Let’s start at the beginning. Pauline’s parents were part of the first cohort of Oshiwambo families who reallocated to Oranjemund in the 80s. In this mining town the outside world had little influence. She experienced, in her words, “a privileged childhood” with a high quality education, safe municipal parks open to all, and integration of all races even before independence. “Everyone had a bicycle and everyone was taught to swim,” she says.
From a young age Pauline was intent on being the best version of herself. In grade 6 she won the Bilingualism Award for English and Afrikaans, beating other students for whom these were mother tongues. And here we find the birth of one of Pauline’s fundamental philosophies in life: “to live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong”.
Growing a career in diamonds
Pauline shares the story of how, as a graduate, she applied for a managerial role at Namdeb. She believed she was the right person for the job and that she was ready for that level of responsibility. Perhaps it was her self-confidence that opened doors for her. She was offered a graduate trainee position and her career in the mining sector began.
At the start she was tutored by Melissa Shanjengange, in charge of Training and Development at Namdeb, , who would say “Life is like an oyster in your hand. If you keep your hand shut, you could miss out on the beautiful pearl hiding inside”. Thus Pauline found another philosophy to guide her. “If I fail, I’ll stand up and try again,” she says, “because life is a journey, not a destination.”
People like Melissa and other female mentors she encountered along the way have shaped Pauline’s focus in her career. “I have a lot of time for young women,” she says. “Early on in my career there were several women who did that for me. There aren’t enough of us creating platforms for others. Helping others grow, yoh! It’s like you’re growing the nation.”
Even though the mining sector is notoriously male dominated, Pauline is undaunted. “It is a man’s world but there is nothing we as women cannot achieve or do,” she states as a matter of fact. She has encouraged women not to lose themselves in such a world. “Women make the difference. It’s who we are that creates that balance in the boardroom, in whatever sector or industry you’re in. We carry a different type of emotional wellbeing which complements any industry.” Pauline believes that having a balance of men and women in the workplace will bring more synergies, inclusion and diversity, and that is good for business.
In 2019, she was seconded for two years to De Beers UK as the Building Forever Programme Manager (sustainability framework). This was an extremely difficult time for her and she had to lean heavily on her philosophies to get through the baptism of fire. She returned to Namibia in August 2021 as Namdeb’s Head of Corporate Affairs and Sustainable Impact and says she sees the effects of that secondment in her way of approaching her job everyday. “Being in London was tough, I had to remind myself that life is a journey, not a destination. Everything that I think I’m failing at and doing wrong is part of that journey. And months later, I see the value of those experiences.”
Shine your light
Pauline is an exquisite blend of hardworking commitment and selfless kindness. She is a beacon for women and a precious diamond in Namibia’s crown.
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