with Khumo Ntlha, CEO, Women in Oil and Energy South Africa – WOESA
You joined WOESA in 2007 and were not yet familiar with the industry. It must have been an interesting learning curve so far. In your own words, what have been some of the key developments in the oil and gas sector since you have joined 4 years ago?
There have been some major changes in the last 2 to 3 years. WOESA, first of all, was an organization established by the mandate of the Department of Minerals and Energy. Historically, we have always had a relationship with the various ministers in this Department. If we talk about the biggest change since I arrived is when the government split up the Department, and created two separate departments and appointed a separate Minister of Energy. For us, this was a major breakthrough. Before, we felt like an “adopted child” within the previous Department, whereas the mining sector received much more attention. We had always envied the support that women in the mining sector received, with benefits such as office space and a budget to cover overheads . Women in the energy sector were not provided with such stability. For us, there was never really sufficient support to ensure a thriving organization. There were never real resources to look at what it would take to boost the entrance of women in the sector. This major structural change gave us our own minister that would be able to focus on the issues that women have in this particular sector. The downside was that we had to start building a relationship with a new minister all over, but our hopes were high. With the new minister Dupuo Peters, we have been able to pin down key elements of concrete support. In our presentation to the Minister, we pointed out that there are women in the industry now, that there are female multimillionaires operating in shipping, service stations, industrial supplies, and so on. Moreover, we have now seen empowerment groups of women that have bought shares in companies. Yet, our argument was also that a lot more could have been achieved already. There have been changes and a transformation has taken place. Clearly, the support that WOESA received was absolutely inadequate.
Do you feel that the role of WOESA is fully recognized today?
I think so. We now have an image that is far bigger than what we really are. Most of the people we speak to, would already have been in contact with us in one way or another. I have had opportunities to be a speaker and to engage the industry at various conferences. We do know how to make sufficient noise and raise issues. In 2010, we have also had the opportunity to raise our issues and blockages to parliament. We have had quite a good platform to raise our concerns. We have been able to share our stories on what we have experienced on the ground. With some issues escalating to the Competition Commission, our efforts have been quite serious to put it mildly.
What are some of these key issues or blockages as you see them today?
One is that the Major Oil companies would be suppliers to non-refining wholesalers. Recently, the government has opened this market by giving licenses to previously disadvantaged people, particularly women. These 600-800 women now go to the oil majors with their licenses. These companies would be competing with suppliers to the mining companies, the airlines, Transnet, etc. However, if a major starts competing with you while they are your supplier, the competition is unfair, and therefore your business is obviously unsustainable.
Another issue was the security that women have for trading. How do you obtain a letter of credit, if you have no history in transacting at such level? Someone has to share the risk with the entrepreneur at some level, which is not happening. As a result, one end up in a situation where one cannot compete unless if one partners with a big international company. The latter however, was sometimes again seen as fronting.
If there is going to be transformation of any significance, then all these barriers need to be lifted somehow. How this can all be achieved, remains the multimillion dollar question.
The energy sector is still dominated by males. Do you think this sector can be a role model in terms of the empowerment of women?
Phumzile Mlambo Ncquka was the Minister who first facilitated the Liquid Fuels Charter that put the industry in a leading position in this sense. However, looking at what is happening now, we have had ministers in between that have not been as aggressive in forcing transformation. In our view, we have not seen significant changes in the last 3 years. Training and exposure programs that were in place all came to a hold and were not replaced by other initiatives. The Department of Energy, for example, was a strong support for the Minerals and Energy Educating and Training Institute (MEETI). Which has since closed down. Taking empowerment of women backwards .