The three – Precious Dube, Bongiwe Mbambo and Pinky Zungu – were among the earliest development candidates introduced by Transnet National Ports Authority in the late 90’s to encourage more black participation in the country’s ports. Tau Morwe, chief executive of Transnet, described their achievement as illustrating the successes of the port authority’s programme of transformation and employment equity.
“The maritime sector used to be one that was closed off to the historically disadvantaged, including women, but this is changing and we are geared for even greater success stories like this,” he said, adding that women are now found across all levels of the country’s maritime sector, from crane operators to senior executives.
Precious Dube admitted that captains of foreign ships can be very sceptical and that she is used to being quizzed about her experience as a pilot. “It’s not common for them to see a female marine pilot, although I’ve heard there are a few in the United States and possibly Australia,” she said.
The three women followed similar career paths, first receiving bursaries from Transnet to pursue a one-year maritime studies programme, after which they completed experiential training as cadets out at sea with shipping lines such as Safmarine and Unicorn, sailing between South Africa, Europe and the Far East.
After a compulsory oral examination with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) they obtained Class 3 tickets to be junior deck officers responsible for auto piloting vessels and managing safety equipment.
They then trained and worked as tug masters at Transnet, manoeuvring ships in and out of the port with the aid of small tugboats. After a one year pilot training programme they qualified as junior pilots before progressing through the various licence grades, eventually finishing with an open licence.