Engen’s Siza Khwela: Breaking through the gender door

Women’s Month affords South Africans time to step back and deeply reflect on the incredible contribution made by the mothers, sisters and daughters among us that all ensure the stability, progress and long-term development of our beautiful country. 

August is also the perfect time for South African women to take stock and ruminate on their lives. 

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Siza Plant Manager at the Engen Refinery

It is something Siza Khwela, Plant Supervisor at the Engen Refinery in South Durban, does to ensure that she’s on track with her career and to celebrate and reflect on women’s achievements, especially in the struggle for freedom, and the important role that they continue to play in broader society. 

“As our passions change along our journey, it’s good to check in with yourself and make sure that you are on the right path with your dreams and goals,” says Siza

“We all spend so much time at work so doing something that I love is very important to me because when I’m happy there is a ripple effect on my entire team and everyone’s energy levels increase.”  

Her inspiring message to her sisters across the country this Women’s Month is for them all to rise and never underestimate their worth.   

“My hope is for the women of South Africa to unite and fight gender-based violence.   

“Let’s stop blaming and shaming each other but rather support each other’s dreams because South Africa has more than enough opportunities for all women.”  

As a successful leader at the top of her game and a single mother, who is proudly raising her late sister’s three beautiful girls, Siza is an inspiration to all women.  

She grew up in Unit 3, a small township near Hammarsdale in Mpumalanga, “the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours.” 

“People were always friendly and willing to assist or lend a hand,” she remembers fondly. 

After matriculating, Siza studied Chemical Engineering at Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) and followed it up with a New Managers’ Development Programme qualification at the University of Stellenbosch.   

“From that moment on, I knew that the world was my oyster and I could do and be anything that I put my mind to.” 

After qualifying, she applied for a learnership programme at Engen.   

“I took a calculated risk and left the position I was in and joined Engen as a trainee on a one-year learnership programme.   

“Thereafter I was offered a permanent position as a Process Technician and the rest as they say is history.” 

In a career with Engen now spanning 18 years, Siza managed to land two highly sought-after promotions, which is no mean feat in an oil refining environment that has historically largely been dominated by males. 

She says that an extremely proud moment and major milestone was when she became Engen’s first female Process Control Technician.   

“As part of the promotion I was sent to Malaysia to learn from our parent company PETRONAS, who are one of the world’s leading oil and gas companies.   

“My achievement was celebrated by all my colleagues and our CEO, which made me proud.” 

When not breaking through doors in the male dominated world of oil refining, how does Siza relax and destress?  

“I’m obsessed with gym especially step classes and Hi-Lo aerobics, where I sweat out all that stress in no time, and I also enjoy watching my favourite cooking shows like Master-chef Australia and ‘Gomora’, which makes me laugh out loud like it’s nobody’s business!” 

For Engen, August being Women’s Month, is the perfect time to acknowledge the skill and determination of a powerhouse such as Siza Khwela. 

This Women’s Month, Engen congratulates Siza for her phenomenal success and salutes all the women of South Africa. 

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