By Inge Mulder
August is the ideal time for South Africans to take stock of the strides that have been made by women. As South Africans, we started a new democratic chapter with president Cyril Ramaphosa announcing a cabinet consisting of 50% women – a first in history and a deliberate step by the president to embrace diversity. It is a leadership decision that should make us examine what meaningful progress for women is and what benefits gender balance can bring to our nation.
South Africa has more women than men. Statistics SA attests to this. And women live longer than men. This means that if women are empowered, educated and given more opportunities for growth, we have the majority of the nation as custodians of our knowledge and assets.
It is said that if you educate a woman, you empower a nation. Therefore, if longevity, continuity and progress are what we should focus on as a country, it makes sense for us to invest in gender equality for a better future for the majority, if not all, South Africans.
Meaningful progress is intentional and unrelenting. It is also purposeful. It means doing away with just checking the boxes of affirmative action and diversity programmes. Such programmes do have their place – they take account of reparations that should be made and provide means for change.
They may leave many of its beneficiaries vulnerable to questions such as: “Would they have succeeded or progressed if a quota did not need to be filled?”
However, how would we ensure that there is space for women, minorities, differently-abled people and others in structures that were not created for them?
Employment equity programmes are a first step – but for many, this is the only step and tragically, where progress comes to a screeching halt.
We should look at the inclusion of women through actions such as levelling the playing field and beyond that, deciding how levelling this field can help us win the game – in this case, economic and social change.
At SANRAL, we have Horizon 2030 and the Transformation Policy, which guides what we intend to achieve with the inclusion of previously marginalised groups. Through the implementation of this strategy, we aim to advance the participation of women in engineering and the construction industry. One way that this is implemented is through encouraging women-owned SMMEs to take part in a two-week accredited training programme in construction management that SANRAL organises to upskill and empower attendees to participate in construction ventures.
One such engagement took place in Port Elizabeth earlier this year with 40 SAWIC women (South African Women in Construction). They received their Construction Management certificates, marking the beginning of a long, mutually beneficial relationship with the road agency.
Empowering SMMEs is important for SANRAL and seeing how women-owned businesses can grow with the agency, attests to our drive to help South Africa grow into an empowered nation that can achieve our mission to grow the economy through an excellent network of roads.
One such story is of the Cambeni Construction Company – owned by Nontembeko Khenku, a former domestic worker, based in the Eastern Cape. To begin her career in construction she undertook a two-year learnership. Cambeni currently employs eight people and has achieved a level-4 CIDB grading. Its projects include building sidewalks along the R61 near Port St Johns to benefit pedestrians in the community.
SANRAL manages over 22 200km of roads in South Africa. The challenge to maintain its largest asset is daunting in a country that has major skills gaps. But taking the example of those more than 20 000 women who marched in 1956, it takes one step, one signature on a certificate to ensure that we bring about change.
We will continue to play our part.
Inge Mulder is the Chief Financial Officer at SANRAL.