Khonelaphi Khangwayini Ngubane’s childhood can be described as unconventional.
The mother of four developed a keen interest in pursuing male-dominated careers and first began driving buses and trucks in 2002 when she was 36 years old.
Growing up in Msinga, a farm stead in KwaZulu-Natal, she was raised with the belief that girls should only study up to a certain point before preparing herself for marriage as opposed to empowering them towards a better future.
However, she refused to be counted amongst those girls who became housewives and instead worked hard to pursue her passion for driving heavy duty vehicles.
After attending lessons with a driving school in Pinetown, she obtained a code 11 license and was later granted a code 14 license.
Her sheer passion for driving heavy duty vehicles paved the way for her to embark on a meaningful career as a truck driver – an experience she would not change for the world.
Now 50, her fervent hope is to one day impart her years of expertise as a truck driver to other aspiring female truck drivers so that they too can experience the many wonders of the profession.
Ngubane has been employed at Timber 24 for 11 years and is the only member of her family to get behind the wheels of a truck. She is most grateful to her family for their full support in her choice of career.
Timber 24 is a division of Barloworld Transport, a timber logistics and forestry solutions company.
“My previous bosses saw potential in me and encouraged me to pursue a career in this field,” she said.
Ngubane previously worked in the Tree Farming division of SAPPI where she planted trees. Prior to joining Timber 24, she worked as a truck driver for SOS, a transport company which is no longer in operation.
“Ziba Okwakhe Mncwaba, a former colleague at SAPPI, is my role model. He was a truck driver for 25 years and taught me most of the things I know today about truck driving.”
She said settling into her job at Timber 24 was not difficult because she was all too determined to make a success of her career.
“I drive abnormal trucks and my travels have taken me all over KwaZulu-Natal to Howick, Mkhomazi, Greytown, Richards Bay, and Mbonambi.”
“I have experienced considerable growth since joining Timber 24 and seized the opportunity to excel in my field. My bosses always encourage me to push boundaries and do more to challenge myself professionally.”
Winning a “Driver of the Year” competition in Umdloti after competing against several experienced male drivers is one of the proudest moments of her life.
On her advice for aspirant female truck drivers she said: “You have to be confident, especially as a woman. Don’t feel intimidated by your male counterparts and be patient. This is probably one of the reasons why police do not treat me indifferently to other male truck drivers and they respect me.”
She said although there were instances when male drivers attempted to undermine her, she did not let fear overcome her and was fortunate enough to have worked with people who respected her and had faith in her abilities.
With time management being a crucial part of her job, she admits she is equally committed to spending quality time with her family.
“I am very grateful to Timber24 for entrusting me with this job and encouraging me to do better all the time.
“I see myself growing within the company and life’s lessons have taught me to take every job, whether big or small, seriously.”
Morning briefs where expectations for the day are delivered, form a regular and important part of a truck driver’s work schedule and are deeply entrenched in the operating processes at Timber 24.
Of utmost importance is to ensure the process of reporting back and signing off after each delivery has been strictly adhered to.
When asked to comment on trucking in South Africa being frowned upon by many due to the carnage on the roads and the destruction of the national roads network, she said she always encouraged drivers to ensure they are well rested before embarking on a journey.
“It is not unusual for a truck driver to feel sleepy while driving and, therefore, it is important to take breaks before continuing on your journey.”
Looking to the future she welcomes the idea of starting her own business and, therefore, attends business workshops to expand her business acumen.
“That being said, I don’t take my job for granted. Whenever I encounter any work challenge, I always remind myself that someone out there is hoping to one day grab the opportunity to have a job like mine.”