Photo Credit: Supplied

A facility officer, superintendent and lifeguard thrive in male-dominated industries.


Cape Town, South Africa (13 August 2021) – In commemoration of Women’s Month, the City of Cape Town’s Department of Recreation and Parks paid tribute to the almost 800 women in their employ, recognising the many areas of expertise required to succeed in male-dominated industries.

Donna Abrahams, Principal Facility Officer:

Photo Credit: Supplied

Donna, a congenital amputee, has acted as a principal facility officer in Blue Downs since 2017 and is paving the way for inclusivity and female management in sport. She is also a skilful able-bodied athlete with only one hand. She’s a gymnastics coach, to boot.

Donna was frustrated about being excluded from most physical activities, especially sport, due to her disability… But this motivated her even more to find ways to get involved and show others that she is not only able to participate but can be a leader in sport and recreation.

“I would like to see more women participating in sport as it can be a wonderful tool to develop young girls holistically. I joined the City as a volunteer and have worked my way up to facility operations. This allows me to interact with a lot more people and do more for the community. Having a career in a field where no one expected me to excel makes me want to achieve even more and has changed my outlook on life,” said Donna.

“I would like to encourage women to strive for greatness and follow their dreams. Don’t ever think that you will never get there. I did and I am still learning every day. Being a woman living with a disability, I’ve had to fight much harder to prove myself to society. Know that one day someone will hear about your journey and will be inspired.”

Superintendent Neliswa Hamana

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Neliswa from Ndabeni looks like your average receptionist – but to the surprise of many, she is, in fact, a superintendent.

Before joining the City, she has worked for the South African National Biodiversity Institute and West Coast National Park. The experience has served her well in building a well-respected career over nine years in the Recreation and Parks Department. Neliswa’s day-to-day duties include overseeing operational planning, monitoring teams and operational resources such as heavy machinery, tools and herbicides, responding to public enquiries, conducting investigations and managing stakeholders.

‘My love of nature makes this my purpose and not just a job. My career has been an eye opener about the reality of environmental issues affecting the communities where we live. It is important to be a leader who is innovative in managing environmental challenges with the limited resources that we have. Women have the innate ability to make the most of the little that we have, so I encourage everyone to believe in themselves and know that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams,’ said Neliswa.

Senior Beach Lifeguard, Jeanne Topliss

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It turns out the Baywatch lifestyle doesn’t come with just the perks of walking down a sandy beach all day, and Jeanne Topliss, an experienced lifeguard and an open-water swimmer, permanently employed at the City, will totally agree.

Her career was inspired by her kids, who wanted to volunteer as lifeguards. She felt that she needed to understand the process better and researched how to qualify for a lifeguard award or certification. In 2005, she attained hers as part of the Fish Hoek Lifesaving Club.

Today, Jeanne has a decade of experience, managing other professional lifeguards at Danger Beach, Clovelly, Fish Hoek and Glencairn, as part of Lifesaving Western Province for about six years and then as a City employee from November 2018.

‘I believe in community service. Lifesaving is a family passion and we see it as a way to give back to our community. Personally, I enjoy a challenge and motivate myself to get back up no matter how difficult the season or how many times you fall,’ said Jeanne.

Even though last season the ratio of female to male lifeguards was 1:4, Jeanne isn’t intimidated and encourages more women to apply and be ready to pass the gruelling assessments.

Sources: Jeanne, Neliswa, Donna – Dept. of Recreational and Parks.
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