Nomusa Caroline Hlongwane, who had dreams of becoming a teacher, is the Shoprite Group’s first female truck driver, and she has helped over 400 new truckers take over the driver’s seat.
Hlongwane’s career in the trucking industry started in 1990 when she joined her late husband’s logistics business which had buses, trucks, and tractors.
She initially helped with paperwork and later also started driving big vehicles.
“I had to help my husband with his transport business,” said Hlongwane. “I had to gain a lot of knowledge about the business. Sometimes I needed to help transport family and take the tractors to certain places.”
Hlongwane’s motivation was to ensure that her late husband’s business did not collapse because she believes that often, businesses take a knock especially when the women at home are not interested in lending a helping hand.
According to the trucker, her father always wanted her to become a teacher, but after marrying young in 1979, she was left with no choice but to immerse herself in her husband’s business after completing school.
“Getting into the business was not difficult because it was not something I was forced to do. It was something I was also interested in.
“When you do something that you already like, it’s easy to have focus and passion so you can learn more,” she said.
While working in the family business, Hlongwane gained extensive experience and in 1995, she got a job as a long-distance truck driver in the US.
When she arrived, there were 150 truckers being distributed in different companies within the US, and she was the only female.
She recalls travelling as far as California to Florida. “We were taking loads from New York to California, from California to Florida, and from Florida to North Carolina. Almost everywhere in the US,” she said.
According to the mother of six, being a female in the trucking industry in South Africa during the ’90s was not easy.
People would accuse her of trying to dominate an industry that was supposedly meant for men. It was the complete opposite when she went to the United States.
“They never had that mentality because there are a lot of women doing the same job that I was doing. Only thing was that some people undermined me because I was from South Africa, and they thought South Africa couldn’t afford to produce competent truck drivers,” she said.
After the death of Hlongwane’s husband in 2000, she relocated to Johannesburg with her children. In 2007 she started working as a truck driver for Shoprite in Centurion.
She recalls being asked by her manager during the interview if she could survive driving long distance.
“I told him that the distance is not really a problem. It’s not even half as long as the journeys I took when I was in the US,” she said.
At her new job, she would have to travel from Johannesburg to Nelspruit. “For me it was like I’m just driving local because I was used to long journeys that took about seven days or sometimes three months in the US,” she said.
Today, Hlongwane’s experience and passion for driving have led her to become a driver trainer at the Shoprite Group.
The retailer received new trucks and Hlongwane, along with four other drivers, were appointed to train other new drivers. She has trained more than 400 drivers, seven of whom are women.
Driving big trucks has many challenges, but what she misses most about being a driver is reverse parking and squeezing her truck into small spaces — possibly one of the hardest things to do