Benedicta Mahlangu-Durcan

Executive manager, ease of doing business, Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone

The oil and gas industry in not traditionally women-friendly, but chemical engineer Benedicta Mahlangu-Durcan has made her mark and is currently responsible for helping to implement South Africa’s first free port in Saldanha Bay, to service rigs and vessels in the exploration and production oilfields.

In her seven years of working offshore, following her graduation from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology with a BTech in chemical engineering, Mahlangu- Durcan (35) has faced head-on the challenges of being young, female and black.

“I was offered the offshore job, working on seismic exploration vessels, and by the time I left the recruitment manager said I was the longest-serving offshore woman.

“It wasn’t always easy in such a male-dominated industry, but the job took me all over the world, including to the North Sea, Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Circle and off West Africa and India. I had my skills and my bubbly personality, and that’s how I succeeded,” she says.

Although she loved her job, and the travel opportunities it presented, Mahlangu-Durcan decided it was time for some shore time, and spent the next two years honing her skills as part of the shipping company Maersk’s Global Management Training Programme.

In 2015 she was headhunted, and is now responsible for setting up the free port at Saldanha Bay, a first for the country. As executive manager of the Ease of Doing Business unit in one of South Africa’s Special Economic Zones, Mahlangu-Durcan is breaking new ground as she implements this one-stop shop to service the upstream oil, gas, and marine repair industries.

“There has been plenty of negotiation but on the 300-ha site we have so far installed all the services, built a bridge across the national road, and completed the dedicated berths. I anticipate the entire project will be complete in 18 to 24 months,” she says.

Mahlangu-Durcan also gives back via a TED talk-style series on the oil and gas industry in a bid to help educate the West Coast community about the business, and the required standards and services.

Her passion for travel is still very much alive, says the recently married Mahlangu- Durcan, who enjoys spending time with her family.

— Di Caelers

Instagram: @mrs_mahlangu_durcan