Women reach great heights on Western Region slopes

Women reach great heights on Western Region slopes

Western Cape, 1 August 2022 – The start of Women’s Month today was marked by the South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited (SANRAL) prioritising women in construction, on its R400-million Western Region (Western and Northern Cape) slope stabilisation projects.

The seven slopes, which include Garies and Piekenierskloof Pass on the N7, Sir Lowry’s Pass, Hartenbos Hills and Groot Brak on the N2, as well as Riemhoogte on the N1 and Strydenburg on the N12, are undergoing extensive repairs and rehabilitation. In Groot Brak alone, SANRAL is investing R240m to stabilise the slope in a bid to prevent rockfalls and slope slipping, which have major implications for road safety.

Women also lead the charge on the projects. Deline Malgas, project liaison officer in Groot Brak, is responsible for reaching out to unemployed people in the area to help them apply for the 48 work opportunities on site.

On the R26m Piekenierskloof Pass, Mquanlla Van Wyk straps on a harness every morning and hauls thick rope to support abseilers who precariously dangle nearly 100m off the ground as they work on the slope. Her dream is to become an abseiler in the construction industry.

Gelcon Civils, a women-owned construction company, is subcontracted to do traffic accommodation on the Piekenierskloof Pass project.

SANRAL has made women’s empowerment a priority within its own ranks, in the industry and in the private sector. The company’s Head of Transformation, Ismail Essa, said SANRAL is adhering to the government’s National Development Plan on many things, including transformation, gender equality and empowerment.

“August is Women’s Month. We must never forget the sacrifices women made so that future generations could have equality. This year the theme, “Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future”, speaks directly to what we are working toward,” said Essa.

Kamogelo Monembe manages two subcontractors who work on the N1 between Riemhoogte and Skietfontein, in the Western Cape. The 185km route is patrolled daily to check for areas that need urgent maintenance.

While she said her work is largely easy, there are difficult aspects, like ensuring the team’s work meets the highest standards.

The team is responsible for cleaning drains and culverts, vegetation control, line marking, guard rail repair, road sign repair and road patching (which is a quick fix), and temporary pothole repairs, in preparation for a team to do permanent repairs.

Potholes are a big challenge because of central Karoo rains, she said.

Monembe enjoys her job, but said she found that men often look down at her, surprised when she chairs meetings as a male civil engineer was expected.

“There aren’t many black female civil engineers, but it is time that changes. Young girls need to step up and out and be counted,” she said.

Monembe’s next challenge? Designing roads and bridges.

She falls squarely in SANRAL’s transformation offering, which has a number of goals, including increasing the number of civil engineers and female-owned businesses.

The agency has awarded bursaries and scholarships to more girls than boys.

Essa said significant strides have been made in awarding financial study opportunities to girls and young women. “In the 2020/2021 intake, 32% of recipients were male and 68% female,” he said.

While creating civil engineering education opportunities, SANRAL is also driving women empowerment. This includes the provision of contract participation goals that set targets for contracts to be awarded to women-owned companies.

Essa said opportunities abound for women and youth as SANRAL was determined to play an essential role in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery through various road infrastructure projects.

“These include projects that are crucial for national economic recovery, which is vital for the development and social transformation of the country and the creation of new jobs, especially for women and the youth.

“It will open opportunities for the development and participation of small, medium and micro-sized enterprises and stimulate the formation of large black-owned enterprises to make their mark in the infrastructure development space.”