Zululand Observer - Weekender
Obstacles and prejudices never deterred fired up Zonke
WOMEN in traditionally maledominated fields such as engineering, face difficult hurdles, and from day one Zonke Cebekhulu (43) knew she had to work twice as hard to prove herself.
She remained strong, well-grounded and unshaken as she negotiated her way around the engineering and transport industry.
This eSikhaleni mother is now a national executive councillor and full-time national trade union representative of the United National Transport
‘My role is to engage with national executive managers and group chief executive officers on matters related to workers within the transport and logistics industry.
‘The union is there to strategise, formulate changes affecting employees, as well as formulate policies and ensure collective agreements,’ she said.
But things were not always smooth sailing for this Zululand mother. As a woman, she faced many prejudices. After receiving her N3 electrical engineering qualification from Durban Technical College, Zonke was employed as an operator at BHP Billiton, now South32.
Within a year she became a laboratory assistant at Exxaro (Tronox).
In 2001 she was appointed as maintenance assistant at Transnet Freight Rail and was soon promoted as examiner and repairer.
‘My job was to ensure all trains were in good condition.
‘It was extremely challenging to be the only woman at that time, because the place was packed with old men who somehow believed I should be doing something else.
‘When we had to do any heavy lifting, they would mock us for wanting the job,’ she said.
Zonke persevered and it paid off when she was promoted to senior planner.
She was not only responsible for train maintenance, but also in charge of all operations.
‘I had to make sure things ran smoothly and focused on mechanical planning.
‘Because the industry was male dominated I had to empower myself with more skills and education,’ she said.
While working at Transnet, she enrolled for various appropriate courses at the Nelson Mandela University of Technology, including logistics management, programme management and development management.
She also completed labour studies and in 2016 became a member of UNTU and a board member of the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA).
She was the first black woman and youngest member to serve on these boards.
‘When I arrived, I soon realised I had to work hard to be accepted. I understood my purpose and remained unshaken, even in tough times.’
Zonke is now one of the national union leaders and still studying parttime.
She is currently doing her honours degree in management practice at Henley Business School.
She recently completed her studies in life coaching and opened a company, Yombuso Life Coaching, performing work within the community and industries.
Her future goal is to continue developing, facilitating and guiding people through her company, Ugqoko Foundation and Ugqoko Productions.
Developing young artists is one of her passions.
‘I am a writer myself and was involved in theatre and drama for a long time. This is still very much part of me and I want to promote this creativity among our youth,’ she said.