_: For Ketsitseng Kebile, not qualifying to study IT has turned out to be a blessing in disguise; one that involves the wearing of a helmet to protect oneself from heat and sparks that form part and parcel of being a welder.
One would not associate the beautiful, petite 24-year-old with the field of welding, yet that is exactly how she spends her work days.
I meet Kebile at a women in energy roundtable hosted by the Department of Energy where we swap contact details in order to keep in touch.
Kebile is an artisan welder for Sasol, the international energy and chemical company that develops and commercialises technology and builds and operates world scale facilities to produce a high range of high value product streams that include liquid fuels.
The roundtable at which I initially meet this up and coming success story that is Kebile, discussed opportunities and challenges for women in the energy sector and lessons learnt in other sectors.
Having finished her matric in 2007, in a small town near Bethlehem in the Free State, Kebile’s dream was to study IT however she did not qualify as she had to upgrade some of her subjects. That dream was not to be, instead she spent almost eight months at home. During that time Kebile happened to hear someone speak about learnerships available at Sasol and she “Googled” them and applied.
She clinched the learnership (of which maths and science are the requisite subjects) in welding in September and started with the two year training which she completed in September 2010.
She did not have to upgrade her results for the learnership and therefore began her training in September 2008 in a field which she admits, she was “not quite” interested in.
“I was curious and I was trying to do something [with my life],” she says.
I ask what her initial reaction was on the first day of training when we speak again days after the roundtable, to which she says the first few months revolved around theory after which things began to become a little more interesting as the learnership progresses with classes in theory and practical work.
“[Welding] is only difficult at the start, as you start learning it becomes more interesting because there’s different types of welding so you don’t do one type of welding every day,” she says.
Divine intervention also played its role when halfway through her training in April 2010 Sasol indicated that they were looking to fill a post for an artisan welder. A Sasol foreman approached Kebile’s class to see if there would be a suitable candidate. Following interviews with the entire class, Kebile or as she prefers to be called “KK”, got the job. She did however have to complete her learnership before taking up the post.
“I happened to be the one that was picked. It was a blessing indeed to think that I got it before I finished my learnership,” she says with gratitude in her voice.
Notably the welding industry is typically male dominated and one can only imagine the reaction of men to a young female welder.
“It is challenging. I’m young and everybody here is way older than me and they have more experience than me. But I do things as if I’ve been here for as long as they have. It gets challenging because people treat you in a certain way,” she says.
Just how much did it bother her? “It bothered me a lot, certain people did not hide their attitude towards me.” However, that did not stop her from doing her job to the best of her ability.
KK wound up having to lodge a grievance against someone at work. “It was not only becoming a gender victimisation thing it was becoming something ugly but things have been better since then,” she says.
“There are very few ladies in this industry,” she says. “There were other women in other trades like electricians. In welding, I was the only one [at Sasol] until another lady arrived this year with the rest just being men,” says Kebile, who works at the Sasol Machine Shop plant in Secunda.
KK is currently studying at a Johannesburg welding school to become an inspector.
When not in the hot seat, she enjoys hanging out with friends, playing netball and reading.
Of the best piece of advice ever given to her she says: “My grandma taught us that we should always be friendly, even to people who are not the friendliest to you. At some point in life you’d find out that a person you are mean to holds the key to your blessing, you might need help from that person.
“Whether people treat you good or bad, remain the person that you are because by you treating them bad you become just like them,” she says.
Advocate Joyce Maluleke, special advisor to the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities has said that women still need to take up opportunities at their disposal, although she added, that sometimes women are not aware of opportunities that exist for them.
KK urged young women to pursue their dreams.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to take chances because something might look like a beast of which you find out when you reach a certain point that actually isn’t.”
The soft spoken, “grandma’s girl” took a chance and is reaping the benefits of not letting challenges stand in her way.
The women of 1956, who sacrificed their all to have South African women become full citizens of a democratic dispensation, would be truly be proud of KK’s focus and drive.