07 August 2019
Women's Month Feature: Anthea Louw
I’VE NEVER NEEDED TO USE MY PEPPER SPRAY
Twelve years ago, when Anthea Louw was a 24-year-old single mother with a toddler and a new born baby at home, she decided her circumstances would not define her. “I grew up in a house of strong women and I was determined my children would have the best I could give.”
She added her name to the George Municipality’s casual workers database and initially landed temporary work in the electrotechnical department. “I liked working outdoors, so when vacancies for women in the civil engineering department came up, I applied and got a ‘pick axe and shovel’ job in the water division.
“It was tough work, but I loved it from the start. It was so interesting! I was intrigued by the fact that water connected the entire city underground, and that water took this incredible journey from the mountains into the dam, into holding dams and treatment works, through kilometres of pipes of different sizes and eventually into homes and businesses,” says Anthea.
I meet Anthea, who is now an artisan plumber, for our interview as she comes off an extremely demanding night shift of complicated pipe bursts in icy weather. While she is clearly exhausted and should already be asleep at home in Pacaltsdorp, she is happy to share her passion with me. “I love working with water. People think it is strange that I would choose to do a ‘man’s job’ in extreme conditions, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
At work she was sharp, enthusiastic and willing to work hard, which was key to her supervisors giving her opportunity to learn more and develop. “I will forever be grateful to municipal plumbers Roy Scriven, George Pieterse and Mitchell Plaatjies who taught me everything I know, and to Deputy Director Water and Wastewater Henry Jansen for encouraging me to work towards the next level all the time.”
Anthea will soon be completing her NQ Level 4 plumbing trade test and wants to pursue further study and advancement. “One day I want to sit in my boss’ chair.”
There are many aspects of the job: from digging holes and finding leaks to major pipe bursts, installing water meters and making water connections. “There is very little a woman cannot do in this job. There is maybe one percent of the work – when real physical strength is required, like when trees stumps and large branches must be moved – that most women would find hard to do on their own, but mostly I can make a plan.
“My work takes me into remote and potentially dangerous places and situations that can range from strangers in the dark to volatile protests. I always have pepper spray with me for in case, but in the twelve years I have worked here I’ve never needed to use it.”
While her role as an artisan plumber is more supervisory than in the past, she still regularly jumps into a hole to help when an extra hand is needed. “I like the physical work and I love that I am able to do a man’s job – it’s cool to tell people I’m a plumber.
“I think there are subtle differences between men and women who work in this field – for instance, I like my work bakkie to be clean inside and out, which can be a challenge when you are working in the mud and practically live in your bakkie when you are out there. Unless I can’t help it, the bakkie will be washed and all litter removed before the next shift.
“I consider the people out there as my community and don’t like it when others talk down to them. I understand their frustration when they have been without water for long. Even when we are verbally abused, I am determined to keep my pose and treat the client with respect and empathy and promise to sort it out as soon as I can.
“My mom Rosa and sister Chantal have supported me through this journey and stepped in with the kids when I was working shifts or overtime. My children are now teenagers and they have known no other life than a mom who works funny hours and come home dressed in muddy overalls. They realise it is relatively unusual for a woman, but it’s just a job and at home I’m their mom.
“To other women I want to say that they should never give up and never be afraid of working in a man’s world. You may be surprised how much you love it. I do,” says Anthea.
- Profile by Athane Scholtz, Communications Officer, George Municipality