Oyama Khanyisile Vundla is a 24-year old young woman from a township named Madadeni in KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. She recently graduated from the Engineering Institute of Technology, acquiring an Advanced Diploma of Civil and Structural Engineering.
A middle child, Oyama has two brothers, but was raised by her grandmother after her mother died. She says that her grandmother was dubious about her wanting to become an engineer.
“She had her doubts that I would make it in an industry so dominated by men. Because of that, I had to work had and prove her wrong,” Oyama said.
Oyama graduated from high school in 2012, immediately enrolling in Civil Engineering studies at South West Gauteng College - a technical and vocational training college.
“I have always had an interest in construction work, wanting to know how the buildings and structures are erected and assembled,” she said.
In the trenches
In 2015, whilst doing her N6 certificate, she got a call from Rand Water, offering her a Plumbing apprenticeship that would last three years. She jumped at the opportunity immediately after obtaining her N6. She found herself at the Newcastle Training Center doing theoretical training for Plumbing, but did not manage to get the 18 months work experience so did not graduate from the college.
In 2016, she did some digging and found the Engineering Institute of Technology. That wasn’t the only digging she did: she also managed to track down her estranged father and expressed her desires to become an Engineer. He promised to help out with the fees for her studies, impressed that she was pursuing something as technical as engineering. She began studying through EIT whilst completing her apprenticeship. She was off to the races.
“I started the course using my phone to attend and would go to the internet cafe for the writing and submission of my assignments,” she recalls.
Obstacles on the road to success
Soon after she began the course her father was retrenched and could not continue to pay her fees. This inevitably caused Oyama stress and her first thoughts were that she would have to pull out of the course. She began falling behind on the course work and her assignments. But her tenacity got the better of her; she was not to be beaten. She renewed her commitment to the course, and at the same time, began applying for bursaries.
The Department of Military Veterans in South Africa responded and awarded her with a bursary. Despite these good tidings she realised that she risked having to pay the bursary money back to Military Veterans if she failed her advanced diploma. With the added pressure of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and with her grandmother’s doubts, Oyama had to rise to the occasion and pass against all odds.
“Nobody believed in me, it was very hard to fight this on my own because even the colleagues I worked with during the apprenticeship would ask how on earth I was going to make it in this men’s industry. I told them to ‘watch and learn’,” she feistily asserted.
A Star is Born
On the 18th of October 2018, Oyama attended the EIT Graduation Gala and received her Advanced Diploma in Civil and Structural Engineering. As her name was called, she triumphantly walked towards the stage, knowing she had achieved what seemed like the impossible. Oyama said she chalks all the success she’s had in her life up to the grace of God.
“I am preaching the words to other females out there, telling them that there is no boundary for us women - we can also make it no matter what. Have a will, have a desire, know what you want and stick to it and in so doing, nothing can stand in your way,” she concluded.
“As long as women know what they want and have got what it takes to stand up to all the pressure, there is absolutely nothing stopping us. Women can dominate in this industry as long as they are interested and eager. It is high time we change our states of mind and give it the best shot we have.”