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Bulawayo pair excel as NRZ train drivers

by Staff reporter
08 Mar 2020 at 08:22hrs | Views
Weighing a massive 65 000 kilogrammes, measuring three metres in width and a length of about three light vehicles, the DE10 diesel-powered locomotive is a beast of steel.

Its doors, opening at nearly two metres above ground, would give a seasoned mountain climber a torrid time.

A humongous front elevation completes the rail car's monstrous built and its rave can scare the wits out of a nervous adult.

Yet 42-year-old Mable Kaunda from Bulawayo is unfazed.

Together with colleague Peggy Mlauzi, they are the only engine women driving trains in Bulawayo. In Zimbabwe, they are part of only four practising engine women and are proud of this fact.

"Tomorrow (last Tuesday) I will be in charge of pulling 30 coaches full of passengers and baggage into Plumtree all by myself," says Kaunda with unconcealed pride in her voice.

"People always gawk at the sight of a female train driver but that is what gives me pride and motivation."

According to Kaunda, it is love for trains which drove her to the job, adding that as a woman, one needs passion to be able to do the job.

"In Bulawayo, it is just the two of us. Countrywide the number is now seven, but as for the ones who have completed the training course we are only four, so we are very few," she says.

"I think some women are still intimidated by the size and the look of the locomotives.

"But it is a very good job, I say fellow women should come and join us because the working environment is actually more friendly than what most people think."

Before joining the NRZ, Kaunda served in the Zimbabwe Republic Police for 10 years, working in a male-dominated environment.

After leaving the force in 2004, she joined the NRZ in 2007.

While Kaunda has no problem working in a male-dominated environment, she believes women are coming from a disadvantaged position as they are expected to put in long hours at work and still be able to perform various duties at home.

"The challenges are there but they should not discourage or take us down," she says.

"For example, my duty starts at 8am, meaning by that time I should have completed all my household duties.

"And when you are on mainline duties, which are the long-distance routes, you can spend up to 12 hours on the job yet the family also needs you at home on time."

Joining in the conversation, Mlauzi said women should not let gender prevent them from taking certain positions in the workplace.

"Well, we are in a men's world and if you think too much about it, it can be difficult to put yourself around the place as a professional," she says.

"But I must say this is something that I have always loved ever since I joined NRZ in 2002."

Having worked as a contract manual worker from 2002 to 2007, Peggy's love to drive a train grew as she interacted with the gigantic machines daily.

"To qualify as an engine woman I had to go for a four-year training here at NRZ and from then on I knew I was living my dream," she says.

"And our managers do not give us easy duties just because we are women. Our duties are the same as those of men.

"Some of the routes that we service include Bulawayo to Plumtree, Bulawayo to Dete, Bulawayo to Chicualacuala and Bulawayo to Gweru."

While Mlauzi is up for most of the challenges which come with driving trains, she struggles with rail accidents, particularly suicides.

"For me, that is the most difficult part of this job and I vividly remember the first time I encountered such an incident," she says.

"On that day we were going to Plumtree and I noticed an 'object' on the rail track. At first, I couldn't see clearly but as we got closer I realised it was a woman.

"I sounded the whistle, but the woman did not budge. By the time the woman tried to jump out, it was already too late because the train really takes time to stop.

"I remained in my seat because I was not prepared to deal with the situation, but I eventually had to face the reality. After the incident, I went through a period of trauma and had to deal with it through counselling."

For Kaunda, suicides are also a particularly dreaded experience.

"It was a traumatising experience," she says.

"I would spend days thinking about it and sometimes trying to figure out how I could have prevented it."

Despite the emetional pain associated with "train suicides", Kaunda and Mlauzi's male colleague, Desmond Mpofu, attests to the two's professional capabilities.

"You can experience trauma whether you are a man or a woman because rail accidents can be a horror for sure," he says.

"These two have, however, proved that they can deal with anything. There are few of them who have been brave enough to say we are taking this job and we are going to do well just as the men.

"NRZ's doors are open to anyone who is competent regardless of gender, and these ladies have shown other women that this job can be done."

Mpofu recounts his own experiences with suicide cases on rail tracks.

"I recall one day I was brave enough to go down and have a look but what I saw really shocked me.

Source - sundaynews