Women take the wheel at Robben Island Museum

Ship’s master at Robben Island Museum, Winny Tambani.

To commemorate Womens’ Day, marked annually on August 9, Robben Island Museum (RIM) had an all women crew man its operations last Tuesday.

From ticket sales to ushers, from tour guides to bus drivers, visitors to RIM were greeted by women.

Running the show on the boats was ship’s master Winny Tambani.

As ship’s master, Ms Tambani’s responsibilities include operating the vessel, managing the crew, keeping strict logbooks and ensuring the passengers have a safe, fun experience.

Ms Tambani, from Parow, said growing up, she always wanted to be a pilot, because the thought of being high up fascinated her. However, she said financial constraints didn’t allow for her to study aviation, or train as a pilot.

After school, she enrolled at an Further Education and Training (FET) college and studied business management. “I soon realised that this was not for me. I moved on and started working in maritime. My first job was a deck hand on a supply vessel.

“I was studying at Transnet School of Ports and working at the same time. That’s where I obtained my Master’s Port Operations Certificate and I did my orals at the Maritime Safety Authority of South Africa to qualify as a master.”

Ms Tambani says she finds being in the maritime industry not too far off from aviation as she is, “simply navigating a different vessel from where the dream began”.

She started working at RIM in 2020 and said it was an honour to be part of an organisation that carries so much of South Africa’s history and heritage. “There is always something new to learn about our history.”

As a woman in leadership, Ms Tambani says there are still many challenges. “We too often still encounter men who don’t appreciate taking instructions from women, especially in a technical field that is largely dominated by men.

“I do however want to encourage the girl child to dream beyond what her friends, family and society say is possible. With hard work, it can be done.”

Robben Island Museum crew are, from left, skipper Nomathamsanqa Mtingeni and deck hands Nobuhle Bavu, Lisasa Ntwanambi and Aviwe Kutu.

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), world-wide, it is estimated that women make up only 2% of the maritime workforce. Sadly, the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report indicates an even smaller representation of women in the global seafarer workforce, putting it at 1.2%

RIM CEO Abigail Thulare, who is the first female CEO at the organisation, said the global trends can only be meaningfully changed when each and every player in the industry does their part to promote gender transformation.

“RIM actively drives a transformation agenda. Our Cadetship Project with the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA) is geared to create more opportunities for women in all RIM operations.”

RIM has recruited 10 cadets, half of which are women. Four of the cadets are undergoing a three-year training programme to qualify as masters in port operations, while the remaining six are being trained as chief engineers in port operations, over a 54-month period.

Last year, as Women’s Month drew to a close, RIM announced the appointment of its first female executive manager, Maphootla Makhoalibe, since being declared a national museum in 1997.