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Metrobus’s female bus driver has seen it all Print E-mail
11 August 2017
Metrobusdriver

Neo Luthuli vividly remembers the first day of her career as a bus driver as if it was only yesterday.

As she sat behind the steering wheel of the big idling bus to start her maiden shift one weekday morning in February 2004, the then 20-year-old Luthuli was overcome with deep and mixed emotions.

Gazing straight ahead as the bus’s engine roared intermittently, ready to kick it into motion, Luthuli was excited that the day she had been dreaming about for almost her entire childhood had finally dawned. She was, however, apprehensive of what lay in store for her in what had generally been regarded as a man's world.

As she set off from the private bus company’s Pretoria CBD depot at exactly 6am for Kwaggafontein and Kwamhlanga in Mpumalanga, she somehow felt she had been thrown under the bus, so to speak, as no one had bothered to give her details of the route. She realised she had been left to her own devices. She was on her own and this led her to go off course a couple of times.

That was before she, thankfully, picked up her first passenger, Miriam Khoza, a regular commuter who immediately befriended her and, seeing the trouble she was in in trying to negotiate the route, became her unofficial navigator and mentor.

As the bus was beginning to fill up along the way, she heard a passenger complaining about the bus company gambling with people’s lives by allowing young and inexperienced women to drive its buses. The rest of the passengers roared in agreement, lighting up a heated conversation about “a democracy gone wrong” and about why women had to understand that certain jobs – like driving a bus – were just not meant for them. These comments really hurt Luthuli.

She considered two options: Either disembarking from the bus driver’s cubicle and walking away from it all or developing nerves of steel and carrying on. She chose the latter and today – 13 years later – she is one of Johannesburg Metrobus’s most-respected and admired bus drivers, having joined the company – the City of Johannesburg’s public passenger service – about 11 years ago. She has not looked back since.

Now aged 33, Luthuli, of Emndeni, Soweto, is more mature, experienced and very popular with Metrobus’s regular commuters, who trust her to take them to their destination safely and on time. She, however, had to work double harder than her male counterparts to earn their trust.

As a young girl, her father used to take her on an occasional leisurely Sunday afternoon drive and she was fascinated by his driving skills.

“I used to observe him while he was driving. I’d look at his hands and feet and ask questions about the steering wheel and the pedals. That’s when I developed an interest in driving,” Luthuli said.

A few months after passing her matric and acquiring her Code 10 driver's licence, Luthuli came across a newspaper advert about a bus driving internship programme. Now with a Code 14 driver's licence, she applied for the internship and, as they say, the rest is history. But her father was not pleased as he feared for her safety and felt that the industry was at the time not ready for female bus drivers.

“It was a challenge for me to get my family’s support because they were worried about the early morning and late night shifts. I, however, insisted that this was what I had wanted to do my whole life. In the end, they relented and here I am today,” she said.

Speaking as the country is celebrating the 61st anniversary of National Women’s Month, Luthuli said she had never, since joining Metrobus in 2006, experienced her male counterparts trying to make her feel she did not belong there. She said she was privileged to work in an environment that made her want to do better and where male drivers were supportive and protective of their female counterparts.

"We’re like one big happy family. As women, we encourage one another to do better,” said Luthuli.

To this end, Luthuli herself has acquired a national diploma and a B Tech degree in transportation from the University of Johannesburg. She is currently studying towards an honours degree because she believes education will allow her to grow.

“I was fortunate to be employed by the City of Johannesburg because it subsidises my studies,” says Luthuli.

She said although she loved being a Metrobus driver, her long-term goal was to establish her own transportation company. She believes she has gained enough knowledge and experience to venture into the transportation business. She likes to meet and share informal moments with the people who ride her bus.

“That makes me smile when I get home and when I leave for work again,” she says.

Luthuli encourages other women to go after their dreams and not to be intimidated by male-dominated workplaces.

“This is a new dawn; nothing’s impossible. Women can achieve anything they put their minds to,” said Luthuli.

She said it was important for women to stand together and encourage one another to do better.

 

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Last Updated on 11 August 2017