Wheels of change: Women make their mark in Cape Town's transport industry

2018-10-07 09:08
Maria Dumekude, an auto electrician who started at Golden Arrow as a cleaner. (Tammy Petersen)

Maria Dumekude, an auto electrician who started at Golden Arrow as a cleaner. (Tammy Petersen)

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The overalls Maria Dumekude wore 16 years ago are very different from the pair she wears today.

After starting as a cleaner at Golden Arrow's head office in 2002, the single mother of two worked her way up to fixing the company's most valued assets – its bus fleet.

A qualified auto electrician, Dumekude proudly lugs around her bag of tools, easily holding her own surrounded by her mostly male colleagues as she works on starters, alternators and wiring on the vehicles.

"I always thought that in a business like this, women belonged in the office. But I was wrong. Look at me – I am getting my hands dirty and loving it."

After two years as an office cleaner, the 45-year-old single mother was promoted to a general hand in 2004, helping the mechanics by passing on tools or holding onto tyres while they worked.

She successfully applied for an apprenticeship and in 2009 became an artisan.

'We still have a long way to go'

"I can do everything my colleagues can do, and sometimes even better. I love the challenge of working in a male-dominated industry. Women like me challenge those who think there are only certain jobs that females are capable of, when that's not the case."

Last week she proudly told Mayor Patricia de Lille about the work she does at Golden Arrow, a private company which is a vehicle-operating company of the City of Cape Town's MyCiTi bus service.

De Lille visited the Tollgate Depot on Thursday to mark Transport Month, meeting women bus drivers, mechanics, regulators and dispatchers.

MyCiTi has 52 female bus drivers, 12 female dispatch operators at its depots and two female technicians.

Maria Dumekude
Maria Dumekude, an auto electrician who started at Golden Arrow as a cleaner. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

"These women are a true inspiration and testament to the fact that women can excel in jobs previously dominated by men," De Lille said.

"But we still have a long way to go. Only 37.2% of 27 000 employees at the City are women and few serve in management positions."

Proud men

Dumekude has her eyes firmly set on one day working her way up to the boardroom, with a seat at the executive table.

"I know I have what it takes. I work hard, I have the skill and the capacity to be able to rise to the top. Nothing gets in my way."

At first, she never in her wildest dreams thought she would find herself in her current position, Dumekude said. Even her family found it strange that she knew her way around the inner workings of a bus, she admitted.

"I look at the problem and try to figure out what is wrong. The challenge is finding the issue and making it work. When it's solved, I look at my work and think: "Wow! I did that!' It's the best feeling."

Changing perceptions about what women are capable of doing is a difficult task, Dumekude acknowledged.

"Some of my colleagues don't treat me as an equal, but they try. The men are too proud to ask me to help if they're stuck. I assist in any case, if I know how."

Encouragement from mayor

The only difference between her and her male counterparts is that she works neater, Dumekude joked.

"Also, my nails are clean and my hands are soft. I moisturise," she quipped.

Regulator Amanda Mtshixa, who manages bus station operations and oversees various routes, started working as a bus driver in 2015. The former call centre agent became a bus driver in 2015 before being promoted to her current post.

Despite proving to be a competent bus driver, she agreed that women were treated differently to their male counterparts.

"They take advantage of us. They take us for whatever," she told De Lille.

The mayor encouraged her to put such people in their place.

A salute to 'brave' women

"I always tell them, 'Listen, I am not your wife, sister, partner or niece, so please'. I have a very small head. And I don't allow anyone to sit on it."

De Lille said local government was "working hard" towards developing and supporting programmes that would provide longer-term employment in an effort to promote economic inclusion, in line with the City's organisational development and transformation plan (ODTP).

bus drivers
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille with woman bus drivers, mechanics, regulators and mechanics she met on Thursday. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

"Learnership programmes, in particular, have empowered many women, some of whom have obtained permanent employment directly with the City through these opportunities. This is part of the City's commitment in the ODTP to take Cape Town to the next level and build a globally competitive city where all our residents, both men and women, are empowered to grow the economy," she said.

"I want to salute all the brave women who have taken steps to enter sectors said to be for men only and who are now breaking barriers for young girls who have similar ambitions to have the same opportunities in the future."

Read more on:    patricia de lille  |  cape town  |  labour  |  gender equality  |  transport  |  good news

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