SA at work: Port of dreams

2014-03-17 08:00

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Vuyolwethu Herber may have one of the scariest jobs in South Africa.

The 27-year-old is a crane operator for Transnet, which involves scaling a giant crane to move goods between ships docking and departing at the Port of Ngqura.

The Port of Ngqura employs scores of people who are now able to afford their own homes and send their children to school

But Herber is not intimidated – either by the dizzying heights or by the pressure on her young shoulders.

“I am enjoying every minute of it. I love the pressure and the adrenaline that comes with the job. It was easy for me because I always loved heights,” she says.

Herber, who is originally from Parkside in East London, now lives in Motherwell in Port Elizabeth and did not have a stable job, and could neither support her family nor continue her studies, before she got her big break.

In 2010, she was trained and mentored at the port, and everything changed.

Armed with only a matric certificate and a Code 10 driver’s licence, Herber successfully completed training and started working as a crane operator.

She is the only woman on her shift, working alongside 15 men. There are three shifts at the port, each running for eight hours.

“I love my job and am the best at what I do, I don’t feel intimidated at all,” she says.

She’s now able to provide for her family, has her own home and drives an SUV.

“I am grateful for this employment opportunity because it has changed my life. I am now a better person and wish other people out there can get the same chance I did.”

Each shift, her target is to carry 35 containers per hour – a task charged with pressure.

“I get job satisfaction when I meet my target, especially given the factors at sea and the weather, which forms part of the intricacies of the operation.”

Nokuthula Toyo (34) has been an operations supervisor since the port opened in 2009. She oversees imports and exports, and supervises 18 men. Mutual respect, she explains, is crucial to getting the job done.

“We work as a team and we have the same objectives here,” she says.

When City Press catches up with Toyo at the port, she is overseeing operations at two ships.

The Mare Lycium container ship is being loaded with containers before setting off for Asia. The MSC Arbatax, from Hong Kong, arrived at 11.43am carrying tons of containers – more than 3?000 of which must now be off-loaded.

The former retail clerk is busy on her two-way radio during the interview, making sure everything is running smoothly and the production process is not disturbed.

“When I started here I was a cargo coordinator, which gave me valuable experience for the job I am currently doing,” says the mother of two from Zwide.

“I am better off now since I started working here. I’m hoping to go and work overseas one day because I am already exposed to the import-export industry, which is an added advantage.”

Nomonde Jwambi (35) is married and the mother of an eight-year-old son.

She was unemployed before starting work at the port as a cargo coordinator in 2010. She has bought a house and is able to support her family.

Her job includes physically checking the cargo and making sure containers were not damaged in transit, compiling reports when there are incidents.

She checks cargo against a sequence list and makes sure the names and numbers on the container correspond with those on the list.

Nozuko Mbombo’s biggest joy is that her children’s education has improved since she started working at the port last May.

The 39-year-old from Kwazakhele in Port Elizabeth is a truck operator whose job involves lifting containers on to trucks.

She arrived at the Port of Ngqura with a matric certificate and a Code 10 driver’s licence.

She had been working in the automotive industry with a company in Port Elizabeth that makes car parts, but now she earns R8?000 more each month than she did before. She has ploughed a lot of this extra cash into improving her children’s education.

Jobs at the port are prized and highly sought after. Monwabisi Mdodana (40) is a casual worker at the port, driving trucks. He longs to be employed full time at Ngqura, where he’s worked since last March.

“I love working in this place and to be in a position to support my family and pay for my kids’ education,” he says.

Port facts

Port of Ngqura

.?The breakwater – which keeps the sea at bay – is 2?610m long, the longest in South Africa.

It extends to a depth of 16.5m and can withstand wave heights of up to 9m.

During the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the waves were 30m high

.?The port is a habitat for about 47 species of fish, and is a nursery habitat for many species including dusky and smooth-hound sharks

.?To deal with the rodent problem, the port has nine spotted eagle owls, three rock kestrels and a peregrine falcon

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