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Female bus driver driven by passion

Written by Nthatisi Modingoane
Thulile Cecilia Mbatha never wants to miss a day’s work. In the event that she does, her regular passengers cannot wait for her to return so they can tell her how much they love and missed her.

This passionate Metrobus driver has a special relationship with her army of passengers – learners attending school in various parts of Johannesburg. So when her alarm goes off at 3.30am every weekday, she prays there are no health issues that might prevent her from doing what she loves most – driving a bus.

She starts her day by doing stretching exercises to ensure her spine does not bother her during the day. After a hot bath, the 59-year-old grandmother drives to work.

Mbatha ferries about 500 school children on Route 551 from Soweto to other parts of Joburg every weekday. It’s a labour of love for Mbatha.

“I love this job. I love these children even more. Every time I step into this bus, I feel their love and respect. I feel at home. It is my responsibility to get them from home to school and back safely and on time. I provide an essential customer care service as a driver, an adhoc counsellor and a mentor for these kids,” she said.

Born in Jabavu, Soweto, Mbatha has been a Metrobus driver for the past 10 years. She got her bus driver’s licence in 1987 while working for Putco.

“Back in the day women were not supposed to do these jobs. I wanted to challenge that stereotype. I became the first woman at Putco to qualify as a bus driver although I didn’t use the licence there,” she said. She quit her office administration job in 1993 after she was transferred to Evaton.

For the next 13 years, the mother of three battled to find another job. She was hired as a driver by Metrobus, the City of Johannesburg’s public bus service, in 2005 after responding to a job advert in a newspaper. Fifteen other women were also interviewed.

“Most of them were young women. That made me very happy. It showed that given a chance, women can do any job. This job has been a blessing. I enjoy every single day.”

Mbatha is prepared to work beyond her 60th birthday next year.

“I will continue as long as Metrobus needs me. God has been very good to me and has endowed me with good health.”

Karabo Molepo (16), a Grade 10 pupil at Coronationville High School, has been riding MaMbatha’s bus for the past three years.

“She’s on time all the time. Her bus is the most reliable and it takes us closest to school.”

Her friend, Lesego Tshabalala (13), said with Mbatha behind the steering wheel, the long commute from Protea Glen to Coronationville and back is an enjoyable experience. Pretty Mthimkulu (14) interjects, saying: “MaMbatha treats us very well. She calls us by name. She’s the best.”