‘Sisters of the Sea’ up to guiding big boys home

2010-04-10 00:00

THEY call themselves the “Sisters of the Sea” and are well known for taking on the hardest of seafarers who question their ability to work in the Durban harbour.

Gugu Dube, Bongiwe Mbambo, Kgadi Matlala and Gcinaphi Mantsho are the new breed of female pilots responsible for bringing huge container ships and cruise liners safely into the Durban harbour — the busiest port in Africa.

This feisty bunch told Weekend Witness that while their job is very rewarding, it also has its challenges, one of which is to convince international sailors that they are on top of their game when it comes to port operations.

After years of intense training as cadets, these maritime enthusiasts were selected for the National Ports Authority’s pilot programme.

“We were very lucky to get in. Once in the programme, we have to work twice as hard to show the men that we could do this. We meant business and pushed ourselves every day,” said Dube, a former teacher who left her job to pursue maritime studies.

While in the programme, Dube has travelled to several European countries, China and even Rotterdam, which is the busiest port in the world.

“This is a great industry to be involved in. I love being alone out there while helping these ships in. We also get to meet new people all the time,” she said.

The best part for Mbambo is when she is flying over the harbour at night.

“The experience is overwhelming. Seeing all that development lit up by lights is amazing. People, especially visiting captains, always ask me about the harbour. This makes me proud.”

Mantsho, the senior in the group, admits she loves all the attention she receives when she steps aboard visiting vessels.

“These sailors have never seen a female pilot so they are surprised when I step on the ship. All the attention is on me and that makes me feel powerful,” she said.

Dube said sailors often doubt the pilots’ ability to safely guide ships into the harbour.

“Some ask us how long we have been doing this. It used to bother us before, but now we just prove them wrong,” she added.

All four point out that there should be more women working in the maritime industry.

“Schools and colleges need to tell girls that they have options. It’s an exciting industry and there are always opportunities to grow. Look at us, we are young women who are living our dreams,” said Matlala.

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