Ladies rule at TNPA, by Liesl King.

According to Portia Derby, Transnet Group Chief Executive, women in the maritime Industry “have fought hard against gender stereotypes and undertook maritime journeys even when they were the first women to work aboard ships, often alone with otherwise entirely male crews. They have helped redefine the industry and in so doing, have allowed Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) to lead the global shift towards gender equity in the maritime industry.”

TNPA has certainly embraced the idea of gender equality in the maritime industry. Of the eight commercial ports, seven have female Harbour Masters and Deputy Harbour Masters, including our very own Yael Wearley and Thokozani Mthethwa, who are the Deputy Harbour Masters in the Port of Cape Town. While three of the commercial ports, namely Cape Town, Ngqura and East London are headed by female Port Managers.

Port of Cape Town’s first black female manager, Mpumi Dweba-Kwetana, took over the reins from Sipho Nzuza in 2017, after a stint at the Port of Ngqura, in Nelson Mandela Bay. Dweba-Kwetana considers it an honour it is to have been appointed as the first black female to manage the Port of Cape Town.


Dweba-Kwetana said it was important that the gap between males and females in the workplace grew smaller and that by supporting women, TNPA as well as other role-players, were bringing about positive change in the previously male dominated maritime industry. “It is assuring to see more women show an in interest in maritime and marine careers. TNPA strives to create equal opportunity for all South Africans and we look forward to more female firsts,” she said.

At the centre of TNPA’s journey to transform its maritime department and the maritime sector was the development of their maritime personnel. TNPA’s first group of transformation marine trainees were dubbed the ‘class of 1999’. Twelve candidates were selected for an accelerated training programme in Rotterdam aimed at bringing in a new generation of marine pilots, managers and other marine professionals into an industry which at the time was reluctant to change.

The only woman in that class of 99 was Theresa Williams. She would go on to break boundaries, becoming Africa’s First Female Marine Pilot in 2001. Ms Williams spent 11 years at Transnet, ultimately becoming the Marine Operations Manager and obtaining her MBA with UNISA. In 2018 she earned her Chief Ship Navigation Licence. Currently she is guiding a new generation of maritime learners as Head of Maritime Studies at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

“I’ve been able to go beyond the circumstances of my birth because I received help, mentorship and coaching. I’m happy that I didn’t remain the first or the only. There are so many women now in the ports.”

Theresa Williams – First female pilot

Following in her footsteps was Lathiswa Binza, who became the first female Chief Marine Engineer Officer at the Port of Cape Town. Binza grew up in the small village of Gxulu in Libode, Eastern Cape and always dreamt of working in the maritime industry. She attended a Transnet exhibition in 2010, while studying Mechanical Engineering at Walter Sisulu University.

After qualifying she accumulated sea time aboard the SA Agulhas, as well as other container vessels and was certified as an Officer of the Watch. She began her TNPA career as second engineer at the Port of East London, before becoming a marine engineer officer in the Port of Cape Town in 2018. She was appointed as the first female Chief Marine Engineer Officer (CMEO) in 2021.

Lathiswa Binza

“Being the first female CMEO and in a predominantly male-dominated industry is not only a win for me, but it is about setting precedence for other females coming after me,” she says.

In 2019 Transnet National Ports Authority celebrated another landmark appointment, when Jabulile Shandu was appointed as a female marine technical officer (MTO) at the Port of Cape Town, a first in the port’s history. She is not only the port’s first female MTO, she also holds the record as the longest serving female marine engineering officer and was only the second marine engineer to ever be employed by the port.

Jabulile Shandu

Shandu said her appointment as the first female MTO was a dream come true and that she was fully prepared for the demands of the job. “Being the port’s MTO comes with great responsibilities that require open line communication with different stakeholders, therefore good communication and respect go hand in hand,” she said.

In another first for TPNA, Sanette Robinson, who started her career in 1995 in the South African Navy, where she served as a combat officer and principle warfare officer on various ships, became the first female pilot to obtain an Open licence at the Port of Cape Town in 2015. Robinson is trained and certified to guide anything from the very smallest vessels to tankers and container ships into port.

Sanette Robinson

She qualified as a tug master in Port Elizabeth and went on to serve on the tugs until she was selected for pilot training in 2009. She qualified as a pilot in September 2010 and has been successfully piloting at Cape Town Harbour ever since. “Piloting is a dream come true. I love every aspect of the job and the challenges it presents, but I’m very encouraged by the support from TNPA,” she said.

“Find your passion, set goals and commit to them.” Sound advice from Port of Cape Town’s Ellen Moletsane, who earned her Open Licence as a marine pilot in 2020. Moletsane studied at the Cape Technikon and completed her training with Safmarine. She trained and worked as a tug master for five years before joining the piloting program. She subsequently obtained her 15000GRT license followed by her Open Licence.

Ellen Moletsane

As a female in the industry she has had her fair share of trials. “It is very challenging to be the only woman on a ship full of men every day, but you find yourself and the person you can be through difficult experiences,” she said. “I run my own race. I don’t have to be fast; I just have to keep going.”

Historically, the maritime industry was known to be predominantly male-dominated. Transnet is definitely on the right road to bridging that gap, as Dwebe-Kwetana concludes: “I commend my female colleagues for joining me in changing the face of the shipping industry and for playing a huge part in contributing to the overall economic development of South Africa.”

Scroll to Top