IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT

Early on any given Sunday morning up the West Coast, you may see a convoy of cars—Hondas to be specific—possibly on the R315 passing through Malmesbury and maybe taking the R45 to Paarl or the R27 to Cape Town. The cars’ paintwork will be immaculate, polished to shine like a new blade. Among these breakfast run drivers is a lone woman driving a ’92 Honda EG. When she stops, she may tell you about its 1.5L, inline four-cylinder, dual overhead cam engine or speak softly about the beauty of its fifth-generation aerodynamic design. She may laugh at being the only female “petrol head” among the men and their Hondas, but she knows she’s accepted—and respected.

“You know, I went through some personal stuff—a divorce—and I needed to find something to do that my kids could get involved in too,” she said, with disarming frankness. “My eldest son was raving about this great car he had a ride in, and I went outside, and there was this Honda. And I thought, ‘Yeah, we can do cars.’ So, I joined the West Coast Honda Group.”

On Monday, she will swap the ’92 for her Honda BR-V and head off to work at Saldanha Bay. The car will be clean, the drive relaxed, and the day’s meetings and assignments will tick through her head. Lelanie Abrahams is Associate: Estate & Client Liaison at the Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone (SBIDZ). Her role incorporates facility management, and, as on any given weekday, she has a full plate.

Back in 2012, Lelanie was working for the Saldanha Bay Municipality on the Expanded Public Works Programme on a monthtomonth assignment. Following that, she became a Relieve Ward Officer, working with the various committees and community groups, also on a monthly contract.

“It was while I was doing this, I met people from the SBIDZ. It was early days, and they were just getting started. They advertised the position of Client Liaison Officer. With my background plus experience in real estate (she worked two years with local estate agent Vanessa Manuel Properties), I thought this is for me,” she said.

And it was. Lelanie had hit her stride, and within a few years, went off to the University of Stellenbosch Business School to do a management development programme.

“I enjoyed it, but it was too broad for me. I wanted something specific, so I went and did a Diploma in Commercial Property Law and a Diploma in Property Management at the University of Cape Town,” she said, adding that she also did a Diploma for Paralegal Practitioner, a course she did in parallel with the Commercial Property Law Diploma.

Lelanie has been in her current position since April 2018, and yes, she admits, there have been some “rough patches”. Early on, Lelanie paid a visit to East London IDZ. She wanted to see what others were doing. The visit was inspiring, and she came away recognising the impact the SBIDZ could have on the community. It gave her renewed hope.

“Look,” she said, “This is a big project, starting from scratch. What we have all learnt is that because we are a relatively small team, we need to collaborate. We need to do this together. The benefits, if we do it right, are enormous.”

She said that what has impressed her is the complete open-door policy that everyone from the CEO down has adopted.

“We approach each other. You never feel left out, and at times, you need the support and recognition of your colleagues to keep in mind the big picture, to make sure we keep sharing the vision.”

Lelanie said the difficult challenge was to balance the expectations and the frustrations of the community. “It requires considerable patience,” she explained. “I tell the community they can’t sit around waiting for someone else to do something. I tell the kids, we can’t promise you jobs today, but you can prepare yourself for tomorrow. Take the courses offered at the college, learn skills through the development programmes. Equip yourselves with the knowledge that we will need when the project takes off. Do it now.”

It’s Friday, and Lelanie has finished a meeting with the security team, has checked that the new tenants are on track for moving into the Access Park, and she’s about to head home.

“Sunday?” she laughed. “Something different. Maybe a drive with the guys or a park off, have some breakfast, show off the car.”

And she drives off.

L Abrahams with car