Tawanda Mudimu Features Correspondent
The constant manoeuvring and pulsating way in which the public transport system is set up disqualifies the faint-hearted from working in it. It is harder in the kombi industry, which involves long working hours, unpredictable passengers and daily targets among other challenges. Yet, all these factors did not deter 29-year-old Emily Sibbis of Chitungwiza, about 28km south of Harare, who has found a niche in a male-dominated profession.
Not only does she drive a kombi, she operates on the busy Seke Road that has become notorious for road traffic accidents to merit the moniker “Black Python”.
Shuttling back and forth between Chitungwiza and Harare’s Central Business District on a daily basis, one can tell that this is no lily-livered woman, but someone who is determined to make a lasting mark for herself from unique exploits.
The mother of two is proud of her job and considers herself the best driver on her route.
“I am the only female commuter omnibus driver, the whole of Chitungwiza, and I am proud of that,” Sibbis told The Herald.
Her journey to become a kombi driver started as a joke.
The passion for the steering wheel first rubbed off onto her from her husband, Wiseman Ngombingo, five years ago after he decided to impart driving lessons to her.
“My husband taught me how to drive five years ago, since then I have not looked back. The moment I grasped the basics, I realised that I enjoyed driving. I then got my class two driver’s licence,” Sibbis said.
This later opened doors for her at Mubaiwa Commuter Omnibus Company where the owner of the kombis did not doubt her abilities despite the discouragement he consistently received from family and colleagues.
“This was a chance for me to prove that I was at least good and gifted in something else in life after I failed my Ordinary Levels in Kwekwe.
“I did not pass even a single subject but books are not the end of life. I am very comfortable with what I am doing,” she said.
In this success story that she has written for herself, she pays tribute to her husband whom she described as a pillar of strength.
“I never dreamt of becoming a driver in my life, never. But I surprised myself when I just woke up one day and asked my husband if I could help him through part his journey as an assistant driver.
“Without much hesitation, he obliged and offered me to take the driver’s seat, and today here we are, a couple buttering our bread for our children as drivers,” Sibbis enthused.
But how does she balance taking care of her family and a demanding job like hers.
“My daily routine starts very early in the morning by caring for my two children – Kelly (8), Kelvin (3) – and husband Wiseman Ngombingo, carrying out my household chores like cooking, washing and ironing with the help of our maid, of course,” explained Sibbis.
However, Sibbis’ job as a kombi driver has been greeted with mixed reactions by the commuting public, with one school of thought mocking her with all sorts unsavoury names such as “a lady of loose morals”, among others.
Others give her the thumbs-up sign for making her way off the beaten path by breaking the stereotype.
“Some people say it’s a man’s job and therefore in their view I should not have ventured into it.
“So many people say negative things to discourage me but I thank my husband for being supportive,” she said, her face breaking into a wry smile.
To Sibbis, gone is the housewife tag, the stereotyping of women as the weaker sex only cut out for lighter jobs like “driving the mop”.
Every day before the crack of dawn, the 29-year-old “queen of the wheel” is on the driver’s seat ferrying Chitungwiza residents to Harare.
A ride in her kombi also helped to further reveal how experienced and responsible a driver she is, obeying traffic rules most of which her male counterparts break without qualms, often leading to serious road accidents.
Even traffic cops have become acquainted with her clean sheet on the road which she tries to maintain all the time.
These virtues have seen her become a favourite among tChitungwiza commuters.
Despite the mixed opinions from the community over her chosen profession, her husband Ngombingo loves what she does.
He sees nothing wrong with a woman driving a kombi.
“Sometimes a man sees the importance of equipping his partner with such life skills as driving, and that is how it all started after she showed a keen interest in driving. She was a fast learner to the extent that she became my unofficial assistant driver for a good five years,” said Ngombingo with a chuckle.
In a revelation that would make cupid smile, Ngombingo is in the same trade as his wife.
“I am a long distance truck driver myself, so since then I would let her take over the steering wheel to assist or relieve me when I was exhausted,” he said.
Ngombingo himself is equally supportive of his wife’s job description, which he says she juggles incredibly well with her role as a mother and wife.
He even declared that he does not have any reservations.
“She carries out her chores at home in the normal way that any career woman does after they have returned from their workplace. She is very caring and never allows her job to interfere with her domestic set-up.
Despite their demanding work schedules Ngombingo says their union remains intact.
“I trust her; both our phones do not have passwords so we do not suspect one another of extra-marital affairs. I therefore urge other men to support their wives in similar jobs,” he said.
When The Herald visited the Sibbis’ household in Unit “H”, Chitungwiza, it was evident that she is fast becoming a celebrity of sorts in her neighbourhood.
From home, Sibbis assumes her other role in society – that of a kombi driver, beloved to many and scorned by others for reversing societal norms and roles.
But to her, all these negative criticisms only help to further fuel her passion for her job.
Even her conductor, Oliver Madeka, can testify.
“When my boss called us and said you two, you are a team I was very sceptical. How could I work with a woman on the steering wheel while I was her hwindi (conductor)? But in no time, I discovered that she was actually good company and a good driver to work with,” confessed Madeka.
Added Madeka: “Being paired with a lady chauffeur is a relief to me because some male drivers are into drugs and they do not value their lives, let alone of those the passengers, but with Sister Sibbis it was a different story altogether.
No wonder we have never had any disputes ever since we started working together. Apart from that, she is a caring person, who guards the life of passengers jealously.”
Edson Marange, who has become one of Sibbis’ regular passengers, showered her with praises on her exploits. He said the standards that she has set in the kombi driving profession gives it a noble face from the ugly one that characterises it.
“I feel very comfortable being in Sibbis’ kombi. Here in Chitungwiza I do not think she has a competitor. She is in a class of her own,” Marange said.
Added Marange: “Sometimes I have to wait just to travel in her kombi because I know she is a cautious and caring driver. She has distinguished herself from the majority of the kombi drivers who are given to drinking ‘musombodhiya’ (an illegal highly potent alcoholic brew).”
Weaving past congested roads, what immediately comes into mind is the question of how she manages to take time to relieve herself.
Sibbis, like any other normal person has to answer the call of nature, but this can be tricky if one is behind the wheel most of their time.
“I use the convenience rooms that are available at most places in town where I have become friends with the people there. Sometimes, I pay a fee to use some of those ablution facilities run by the city council.
“If I am nearer home, I use our amenity at home, at the same time taking advantage of these short breaks to either buy myself fast foods like fresh chips, pies and drinks,” said Sibbis, who is a self-confessed natural beauty who doesn’t believe in cosmetic enhancements.
“I am not scoffing at my fellow womenfolk, but I believe that the beauty that I received from God is enough,” she added, showing off her naturally manicured nails and make-up- free looks.
Sibbis says she has interests in the transport industry and hopes to own her own fleet of kombis someday.