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Sunday Tribune - - PORTS -

DON’T have to lead like a man. I’ve learnt that mariners will re­spect some­one who knows their job ir­re­spec­tive of gen­der or race.”

These are the words of Dur­ban’s newly ap­pointed act­ing port man­ager, Noku­zola Nkowane.

She be­lieves her 17 years of ca­reer ex­pe­ri­ence have given her a sound knowl­edge of port op­er­a­tions as well as prop­erty, fa­cil­i­ties, cus­tomer re­la­tions man­age­ment and strat­egy im­ple­men­ta­tion, equip­ping her well for her com­plex role.

Adding to her com­ments that it is not about lead­ing like a man, she says: “When I re­alised that, I stopped wor­ry­ing about be­ing a black woman. I de­cided to be ex­cel­lent and ef­fec­tive at my job.

“I don’t fo­cus on the other noise. If you do not know your work, it’s easy to want to use gen­der or race as a scapegoat. I am con­fi­dent of my ca­pa­bil­i­ties, sup­ported by my team, and fail­ure is not an op­tion,” she said.

She has par­tic­i­pated in a num­ber of strate­gic ini­tia­tives in­clud­ing plan­ning and port precinct re­con­fig­u­ra­tion (land use), ter­mi­nal com­pli­ance is­sues, reg­u­la­tory is­sues and spe­cial projects.

But it is her love for ports, her warm ap­proach and her unique sense of hu­mour that will in­ject a great deal of life into one of

Africa’s old­est and busiest har­bours. Amaz­ingly enough, though, she says she landed in the mar­itime in­dus­try by ac­ci­dent.

Nkowane grew up in a num­ber of places – in­clud­ing Lady Frere, Ez­i­be­leni in Queen­stown and Zwelit­sha in King Wil­liam’s Town – and al­ways wanted to be an ad­vo­cate.

She had been raised by a sin­gle mother and wanted to beat her lawyer fa­ther “at his own game”.

But, as she says, life hap­pened and her univer­sity stud­ies took her in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

She started out in prop­erty, work­ing for In­ter­site and Old Mu­tual Prop­er­ties in Cape Town be­fore join­ing TNPA in 2004 as a prop­erty man­ager in the Port of Cape Town.

She then moved to Richards

Bay and later Dur­ban, where she suc­cess­fully man­aged their real es­tate and fa­cil­i­ties man­age­ment port­fo­lios.

Mov­ing into the mar­itime was a cul­ture shock, she ad­mits. “The prin­ci­ples were the same as for prop­erty, but the en­vi­ron­ment was com­pletely dif­fer­ent. I had to un­der­stand not only the op­er­a­tions but also the ter­mi­nol­ogy.

“In our space, you can be a fi­nan­cial or a prop­erty man­ager, but you also have to un­der­stand the con­text and your en­vi­ron­ment to make sense of what you are work­ing with tech­ni­cally.”

She changed course in 2012, mov­ing into port op­er­a­tions, first as the se­nior op­er­a­tions man­ager for the May­don Wharf Precinct and Joint Op­er­a­tions in Dur­ban and then as ex­ec­u­tive: op­er­a­tions, de­vel­op­ment, per­for­mance and mon­i­tor­ing at TNPA’S Jo­han­nes­burg head of­fice.

She was both sur­prised and de­lighted when TNPA ap­proached her to act as Dur­ban port man­ager and fill the shoes of Moshe Mot­lohi who had been ap­pointed the act­ing chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer.

Be­cause of her pre­vi­ous po­si­tions in Dur­ban, she knows most of the key stake­hold­ers and is re­con­nect­ing with them.

But, as a sin­gle mother to 9-yearold son, Ikenna (which means God’s strength), the move to Dur­ban has not been easy. Like any mother bal­anc­ing work and par­ent­ing, she has had to put strong sup­port struc­tures in place and, so as not to dis­rupt his school­ing, she opted to leave him in Jo­han­nes­burg.

She be­lieves the work en­vi­ron­ment needs to ac­com­mo­date women and is un­der­stand­ing when man­agers have to leave early to pick up chil­dren or come in late be­cause of a prob­lem at home.

“I al­ways say that for me to be re­spected or heard, I don’t have to raise my voice. I em­brace my fem­i­nin­ity in all things. I will wear my pink dress, my long nails and my red lip­stick. It doesn’t make me less of a leader.

“If I want to wear a suit, it is not be­cause I want to fit in with men.

If I want to wear a frilly dress, I will wear it with pride. It doesn’t take any­thing away from what’s in my mind,” she says.

An­other strength that she be­lieves women bring to a largely male-dom­i­nated com­mer­cial en­vi­ron­ment is build­ing good re­la­tion­ships.

“Fore­most, it’s about the cus­tomers and our em­ploy­ees. If we get that right, we will have a strong foun­da­tion. When I wake up in the morn­ing, I re­mind my­self that I am go­ing to work to serve my team, my em­ploy­ees and our cus­tomers.

“If the ser­vice we of­fer is not up to scratch, we are go­ing to lose busi­ness and it’s go­ing to have an im­pact on those who are de­pen­dent on the com­pa­nies that will also suf­fer as a re­sult.

“It is about en­sur­ing that there is a high level of re­spect – that we re­spect the busi­nesses that are our cus­tomers and that they re­spect the man­date that we have to dis­charge our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” she says.

Closely aligned with build­ing sound re­la­tion­ships is an­other TNPA pri­or­ity, trans­for­ma­tion.

“There’s no two ways about it – we need to trans­form. In the port sys­tem, there are so many ar­eas where trans­for­ma­tion is needed and as an or­gan­i­sa­tion we have started that jour­ney.

“It is im­por­tant that you take the peo­ple through the process and make them un­der­stand why. And when you have done that, you can re­ally con­tinue. It is not about be­ing a bully,” she says.

Nkowane ad­mits that she is tak­ing the helm at an ex­cit­ing time for the port of Dur­ban.

TNPA chief ex­ec­u­tive Shu­lami Qalinge is spear­head­ing the World Class Port Author­ity 2020 vi­sion and Nkowane is ex­cited to take the lead in en­sur­ing that Dur­ban is a world class port within the next two years.

She be­lieves tech­nol­ogy will play an im­por­tant role.

“We need to em­brace tech­nol­ogy and the dig­i­tal era in our op­er­a­tions. But when you push tech­nol­ogy, there is al­ways a con­cern about the im­pact that it will have on em­ploy­ment.”

For her, tech­nol­ogy is not an ob­sta­cle, but an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove peo­ple’s skills, empowering them with more rel­e­vant skills.

Tech­nol­ogy is also key to im­prov­ing Dur­ban’s ser­vice of­fer­ing and boost­ing op­er­a­tional ef­fi­cien­cies.

An­other con­trib­u­tor will be Dur­ban’s new cruise liner ter­mi­nal, which she sees as a game changer not only for the port it­self but also for the broader tourism in­dus­try. It will also ad­dress youth un­em­ploy­ment, which is very close to her heart.

“We need to make sure that, in terms of our in­fra­struc­ture, we have the draft that is needed, that we have the length in terms of our quays and that our ter­mi­nal op­er­a­tors have the right in­fra­struc­ture and equip­ment.

“It also talks to our own skills to be able to ma­noeu­vre these ships as they come in and we need to en­sure that our road in­fra­struc­ture be­yond the port is ca­pa­ble of han­dling all this traf­fic, “she says.

Im­prov­ing an old port like Dur­ban will take in­no­va­tion, she con­cedes.

“Im­prov­ing ef­fi­cien­cies is one of the things I’ll be fo­cus­ing on this year. We need to make sure our ter­mi­nals are pro­duc­tive. Our cur­rency in the port of Dur­ban should be the ef­fi­ciency of our ter­mi­nals.”

Dur­ban’s newly ap­pointed act­ing port man­ager, Noku­zola Nkowane ‘har­bours’ as­pi­ra­tions for a tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced port ser­vice.

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