Women make high-rise history

Mary Papayya

The South African Port Operation's Pier 1 Container Terminal in Durban made history last week as the first terminal in the world to employ female rubber-tyred gantry operators.

RTG is a crane that is 25,1m wide - or seven lanes wide, across six containers and one lane for a truck - and 26m high.

The driver's cabin is extremely hi-tech, featuring a computerised system able to detect its own faults.

In addition, it has been designed to take into account the operator's comfort and ergonomic consideration with its air-conditioner and heater.

Among the RTG operators are seven women. The team of 42 RTG operators and 15 other operators have undergone three months of extensive academic and practical training on the new equipment.

They were trained by a team of Sri Lankan experts.

Specially constructed training grounds and situations were simulated at the Pier 1 terminal to ensure the operators received the best possible hands-on experience under the experts' watchful eye.

Priscilla Dlomo, 20, is an electrical engineering graduate who wanted to pursue a career in the maritime industry.

The RTG operator has just completed her training and says: "This is a great accomplishment for me. I studied electrical engineering, but I couldn't get a job.

"When I saw the advertisement for drivers at Pier 1, I thought I could do that.

"But when I saw the RTG and its size I was very anxious.

My parents were also not very happy when I told them about the RTG and what I would be doing. Now I have their full support."

Dlomo said many of her male counterparts thought she would not be capable of doing the job, and was delighted to show the sceptics women can accomplish "almost anything".

Sri Lankan trainer Errol Ryan said: "We have trained RTG operators in India, Sri Lanka and Dubai and this is the first time we have heard of female RTG operators.

"I was very concerned when I saw the female names, but, after the training, I can safely say the women have performed, in some instances, better than the men."

Lunga Ngcobo, a Ports Operations spokesman, said: "This is the first time SAPO is utilising the RTG operations and the equipment in SA, with ergonomic features to enhance comfort and productivity."

Pier 1 Container Terminal was temporarily closed in December to implement a R2billion plan to refurbish it into a high-performance container terminal.

It reopened this month.