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South Africa: Women Walking the Road Less Taken, and Shining


Pumza Mbulekwua and Phie Nxumalo are working in male-dominated fields - construction and engineering. The pair both had their Bachelor’s degrees funded by Eskom, as part of its efforts to groom specialists to augment the workforce at its Medupi Power Station.

The station co-financed by the African Development Bank, comprises six coal-powered units with a cumulative capacity of 4,764MW. In anticipation of potential mass job opportunities, the Bank and Eskom embedded skills development, in the construction phase particularly, in the contract which was between the two institutions. This had led to a skills development drive that is striving to build a talent pool across gender norms.

“I work in a team of ten - three women and seven men. I’ve learnt that respect begets respect, and that maintaining a positive attitude will lead me to greater career progression. This is especially so in Medupi which is a multicultural work space,” says Mbulekwua, who works in the coal and ash unit.

A rising star, she is one of the firm’s promising leaders, who worked her way up from a graduate trainee in 2007, to the role of construction manager. Her excellence shows in her work, as well as her accolades.  Among the accolades she has received are the ‘Best Achiever of the Year, Quality and Excellence’ award (2009) and ‘Best Project Supervisor, Group Capital’ (2012), which she earned during her formative years in the industry.

Nxumalo, is a design engineer, whose department has become less busy as more sections of the power plant have been completed. The experience has left her with much more than the mechanical engineering degree that Eskom funded for her from KwaZulu Natal University.

“I was underestimated at first, as I was quite young and female, but I consistently worked to show that I can perform as well as my male peers …This has earned me a place as the only female in my department of four, at the moment,” she said.

The Bank, hich supports women in traditional male-dominated activities, recognizes the diversification of gender roles in the Medupi Power Project.

 “Though the project has been predominantly male-staffed, these two illustrate that casting the female nets wider is necessary and will yield a larger workforce. However, there’s need for more women in the energy sector in technical and leadership positions,” the Bank’s Gender specialist, Linet Miriti, said.

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