It is early morning in a busy commercial vehicle stockyard and Dorah Lungile Mabaso is meticulously completing a walk-around safety check of a new multi-million Rand truck that is about to be delivered to a local transport fleet.
Not everybody in the yard is used to seeing a female truck driver, so they shout a few comments as Mabaso enters the cab to start her workday. This is the first of four truck deliveries on her schedule today so Mabaso gets going and easily manoeuvres the big machine into the busy Gauteng traffic.
“I have a big responsibility to ensure the safety of all the other road users around me and to deliver this new truck safely,” says Mabaso. “I must say I still get excited with every delivery I do, especially when the recipient is happy with their new truck. Customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal!”
Mabaso is one of only a minimal number of female truck drivers in the local transport industry. She graduated from the Volvo Trucks Iron Woman heavy commercial driver training programme and was subsequently employed by Trucklogix, a company that specialises in commercial vehicle logistics.
This training programme, sponsored by Volvo Trucks, is conducted at the Commercial Transport Academy (CTA) in Kempton Park founded and run by Nicci Scott. In 2019, 40 women trained as professional commercial vehicle drivers with 30 more added to the programme this year. The training is, unfortunately, on hold for the time being due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iron Women is aimed at enhancing the capacity of professional drivers and to ultimately enable them to contribute to their future employers’ fleet safety, profitability, and efficiency. This qualification, which is approved by the Transport Education Training Authority, is based on both theoretical and practical modules.
“When the opportunity to become a truck driver first arose, I was simultaneously excited and scared! With nothing to lose, I decided to just go for it and I know now that I could not have chosen a better career,” explains Mabaso.
“My dad, who used to be a truck driver and naturally knew all the challenges you come across in this profession, was initially very reluctant to encourage my new career path. But now, he is my biggest supporter and brags everywhere about ‘his little girl driving these big trucks’.”
Mabaso believes that she and her fellow graduates have broken a lot of gender barriers in the industry and that more women should come on board.
“I believe we can affect real change in the industry and challenge the norms. This includes creating dedicated facilities for women drivers at truck stops and safer operating conditions on long-haul routes,” says Mabaso.
A critical shortage of skilled commercial vehicle drivers is one of the contributing factors to the country’s high accident rate. Volvo Trucks, therefore, believes that training remains instrumental in efforts to improve road safety.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic it once again became clear that truck drivers form the backbone of our economy,” says Marcus Hörberg, vice-president of Volvo Group Southern Africa. “With women severely under-represented in the industry, it is hoped that Iron Women will continue to help increase the pool of skilled women drivers in the country.”
Providing more drivers with the necessary skills will not only benefit the industry but also the economy and the community at large.
“At the beginning of my journey as a trucker I was intimidated by men saying, ‘this is a man’s job’, and openly criticising us at truck stops. Now, my skills speak for me. I greet male drivers confidently knowing that I am a well-trained and experienced trucker with one goal in mind: doing my job efficiently, safely and professionally,” says Mabaso.
Hörberg also contends that truck driving is no longer a job only for the physically strong and this message needs to be communicated more.
Nicci Scott, founder of the Commercial Transport Academy, says it has been calculated that the commercial driving sector in South Africa is short of about 15 000 drivers.
“With truck driving today a gender-neutral task, we believe this programme is addressing gender parity in the sector through the employment of highly determined, well-trained female drivers, while creating job opportunities for South African women in economic plight,” says Scott.
After the delivery of the last truck of the day, Mabaso has a satisfied smile on her face.
“Driving a truck is wonderful. I have the privilege to travel this beautiful country of ours and the views that fill the cab windows are simply spectacular. The people you meet along the way are just so diverse and fascinating. It is a job filled with responsibility and risk but when you complete another delivery, it fills you with immense satisfaction. That is what drives me every day.”