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No hide-and-seek for this high achiever Florence Nomvuselelo Qwalana tells Western Cape Business how her mother’s strict lessons helped her make the move from a small rural village to become the supervisor of a team of electricians in the Transnet Rail Engineering plant at Salt River. Florence Nomvuselelo Qwalana

How did you decide on this career path? I come from a rural area near Mthatha where there was no electricity at all. So when people came to our school to explain about careers, I was so interested in the electrical field. I wanted to be able to go back and do something about it in the rural area. Did you have family in Cape Town? No, I came here to visit a friend living in Vrygrond. I was a domestic worker for two ladies in Muizenberg who ‘adopted’ me. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I told them I wanted to study. Over the weekends I worked for them, and from Monday to Friday I studied. I saved money so I could complete my studies.

How long have you been with Transnet? I started in 2004 as an apprentice. Where did you study? I matriculated from Lutubeni Senior Secondary in 2000. In my class, 21 students out of 100 passed. I did my N1 to N3 in heavy-current electrical engineering at Westlake College, and then finished my N4 at the Pinelands campus of the College of Cape Town. western cape business 2013

How did you find Transnet? My friend was an appie (apprentice) here; he explained that there were some posts coming up. I started here on 15 March 2004, as an appie. How was it working here? It was different. We had been expecting to climb ladders with heavy current, but we became electrical fitters. This was good because we learned new skills. What was the first move out of being an appie? By the end of November 2006, I was ready for my trade test. From 1 December 2006 they called us to the Rotating Machine section and gave us a 15-day contract, to fit pinions. We were working as artisans while we waited for the results. Did you have to wait a long time before you received a permanent job after qualifying? In March 2007, they called us to say that some posts were open, and we went to the Coaches division. Then we were offered a threemonth contract until 1 July. And then we were appointed as permanent artisan electrical fitters!

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interview Where did you learn these values? From my mother. She was so strict. My mother is uneducated, but the way that she is, you must make sure you come back from school and open your books. It helped me a lot.

Florence is the supervisor of this electrical workshop. How did you feel when that happened? It was WOW! Everything was so... wow. I phoned my family, my mother was so ‘on top’. The way we are suffering at home... my mother had been sick. As soon as I became permanent I decided to bring her to Cape Town. With my first wages I bought an RDP house for her in Capricorn. She is enjoying Cape Town very much.

What motivates you? You have to know yourself, and each and every time you must look back. Where do you come from? Where are you going to? Those are the bold words that are motivating me: you ask these questions on a yearly basis. What have I done this year? What have I achieved? What went wrong? How can I rectify it?

Has Transnet helped you develop? They helped me a lot, coming from a situation where I didn’t have funds; they were there to support me with the Student Bursary Scheme (SBS). TRE provided practical work experience. What is your title? Supervisor: electrical section. There are 18 people reporting to me.

What steps have you taken since then? After I became an artisan, I worked with push buttons, connecting the wires in the corners and all the electrical panels. In 2008, I was doing those jobs until they needed trainee supervisors. I was lucky to be one of those people they selected. I was a trainee supervisor from March until August 2008 when a position opened, and they appointed me.

Are you still hands-on? In Coaches, there is a lot of pressure, you have to wear your overalls and roll up your sleeves. Have you had a chance to go back to your village? The problem with our village is the electrical substation is still far away, but it is coming closer. I motivate the people when I go there. There are no libraries, you have to push yourself.

You say you were lucky, but there must be other qualities that someone saw in you? If there is a task that has been given to you, you don’t wait, you go and do it. When you have finished your task, you go the extra mile. You don’t wait for someone – ‘OK now I’m finished with my part, now it’s hide-and-seek’.

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western cape business 2013


No hide-and-seek for this high achiever