Onke Ngacu, a Technologist at Engineering and Architecture firm GIBB, is set to make history by becoming the first black woman to hold the position of Chairperson of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering for the Amathole (East London) region.

Ngacu, who works in GIBB’s Water sector at the East London office, says she is honoured to be given the responsibility, but also aware that there is much work to do.

Challenges and legacies

She adds that the industry still needs to change its legacy so that the field becomes more accepting of women in a cultural and a practical sense. “It is exhausting for women to have to constantly prove themselves,” she notes.

Ngacu says the SAICE role I rewarding because it’s given her a chance to be hands-on in developing her industry. “At our recent schools’ Water and Bridge Building competition, it was amazing to see how grateful students were to be able to learn and participate.”

Another industry challenge according to Ngacu is the lack of structures to absorb new engineering graduates into the workforce.

“We need to be more open to employing black diploma and B.Tech graduates, and to make sure they have clear career paths through to eventually registering with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).”

Progress

Despite these industry challenges, Ngacu says there has been progress and that working at GIBB, a black-owned company, is deeply fulfilling.

“Over my 11 years at the company, I’ve had the honour of seeing projects right through from inception to close-out, and felt the satisfaction of seeing clean potable water emerge from a tap after working on a water project for years.”

To women looking to succeed in engineering, she had one message: “Don’t wish for it. Work!”