Female SAPS mechanic makes her mark in male dominated industry
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Nonhlanhla Nozizwe Hlatshwayo
DURBAN - AS THE first woman to be employed as an artisan at the SAPS Eshowe mechanical services department, Constable Thulile Gwala believes women can tackle any career if they work at it.
After matric, Gwala enrolled to study electrical engineering. Once qualified she was hired by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, where she worked on trains, tracing faults and installing cables.
When the contract ended, she moved to eThekwini Municipality where she was introduced to the world of mechanics.
“I was part of an apprenticeship programme. At that time I knew nothing about mechanics, but as the course progressed I topped the class and was helping others who were supposed to have an advantage due to having studied mechanical engineering.
“During my time at eThekwini Municipality I went to do a trade test on diesel mechanics and I passed the test and obtained my certificate. I realised the love and passion I had for being a mechanic as I was busy with my apprenticeship.”
Gwala is a qualified diesel mechanic and joined the SAPS in October last year.
“My duties are to ensure the safety of all our SAPS members when using state vehicles. I carry out services on those vehicles, maintain and repair state vehicles and assess them.”
Gwala isn’t bothered about working in a male-dominated industry and says she stays motivated by serving as an example and source of inspiration to other women who want to join the industry.
“I always say that if mechanics was meant for males, that would mean I am a man as well. I believe that there are no jobs that are reserved for males or females.”
Gwala said at times when she was the only mechanic available, other police officers who brought their cars for attention had to trust her.
“Once they see that I have fixed the car, they are always left astounded and, I must say, I have won the trust of many of the police officers. They now fully believe in my abilities in mechanics. My colleagues in the garage know me and they trust me to get the job done on time.”
Gwala said being with the SAPS had challenged her and she had advanced her skills.
“Joining the SAPS has exposed me to other brands of vehicles which I was not exposed to in previous jobs. It did not give me a problem, because in mechanics that is how we grow – by learning new things in order to grow and become an expert,” she said.
The SAPS said it viewed Gwala as a valuable employee.
“She looks forward to going to work every morning, knowing very well that she will come back dirty and covered in grease. All that doesn’t bother her. She gets satisfaction from living out her dream of fixing cars on a daily basis. She knows that she has to sacrifice the beauty accessories for her passion, which is fixing cars,” said KZN police spokesperson Thembeka Mbele.
Gwala said she wanted to impart her skills to other women so as to open up the industry to them.
“I see myself running my own workshop, employing women in this environment but also owning a training centre where I will train women in mechanics from scratch.
“That will help women so they do not get stuck on the road without knowing what to touch on the car when they encounter problems,” she said.