Memory Bere is a 27-year-old mechanic and an immigrant. When she was 21, economic hardships in Zimbabwe forced her to try her luck in Durban.
Memory is a qualified diesel and petrol mechanic in Durban and is moving into higher pursuits in a field where women are largely invisible. She now services heavy construction machines at Turner Morris, a construction plant hiring corporation in Durban. Her path was not all rosy.
“It was a difficult for me to get a job in Zimbabwe,” she says. “I grew up loving cars, yes, but I chose to become a mechanic as a challenge. A challenge to men who say some jobs and skills are only exclusive to them.”
Today, she looks back at her success with pride.
“Most female motorists I attend to feel better leaving their cars in the hands of a female mechanic.”
Finding her way as a female mechanic
When she landed in South Africa in 2013, it was not easy for a foreign female mechanic like her to pin down a job.
“Whenever I applied for posts, many recruiters did not believe that I am a women or that I was capable of doing what men can.”
When she finally got her breakthrough as a car mechanic at a Durban garage, one sexist incident in particular made her furious.
“I was fixing front brake pads for a customer and fastening wheels. On completion, the male customer summoned my workmate — a male mechanic. He asked him to cross-check the work I have done on his car´s wheels to test my ability. I was so angry that he looked at me as a woman and doubted that I could refit a car brake pads and wheels,” Memory says.
However, Memory was comforted by the professionalism of her male workmate.
“He rebuked the customer by saying ‘This woman has fixed your car brake pads with 100% adherence to safety requirements. Do not lower her.’ I was so grateful he did that,” she recalls.
Female… and foreign
Though Memory thinks more garage owners in Durban are gradually becoming more accepting of female mechanics, for foreign-trained women like her, other dangers lurk.
“It is not easy to be a foreigner in parts of Durban. You are accused of taking jobs. I am also a lady. This doubles issues. When I was the only female mechanic visible in a car garage, sometimes I was insulted by hostile local women that: ‘You are there at the garage because you want to snatch our husbands.’”
But being a lady mechanic is also an advantage.
“Most female motorists feel more comfortable leaving their cars to the care of female mechanics. Nowadays, I am being trusted more than guys,” she says.
She recalls one immensely proud moment in her career as a female mechanic in Durban.
“My male colleagues were struggling to fix one of the popular Volkswagen GTI model sedans. All of them abandoned hope of diagnosing its engine issues. I stepped in, studied it, applied my skills and cranked its engine to life. I was over the moon,” she says. “I proved that a woman can do it too.”
She is despondent however that young women continue to shun the mechanical trades industry in South Africa despite strong employment chances in the trades.
“It is a dirty job, yes,” she says. “You get bathed in grease and engine oils but the joy and rewards come from being dirty in overalls and grease.”
She calls out South Africa´s sexist social perceptions as a factor that spoils the ambitions of women from joining the mechanical trades.
“For me, it was a sacrifice, but I have never looked back.”
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