Careers Service all-rounder bows out after 40 years

06 December 2021 | Story Wendyl Martin. Photos Je’nine May. Read time 9 min.
Fuad Abrahams retires this year after four decades at UCT.
Fuad Abrahams retires this year after four decades at UCT.

Fuad Abrahams hopped off at the University of Cape Town (UCT) on 4 May 1981, full of hope and readiness to do the spray-painting and polishing work he knew so well.

Prior to this he’d had an interview for work at the university and was hired, and thus was reporting promptly for duty. The spray-painting and polishing work he had trained for involved polishing, sanding down and buffing cars, furniture and appliances.

Instead of this work, he was handed a rag and polish and told to dust the desks in an architecture workshop. Disappointing as this was, it was not where his journey would end; rather, it was the beginning of a 40-year career that enhanced his skills and allowed him to witness turning-point moments in history.

Abrahams said he’d left school after Grade 11 and worked as an assistant spray-painter for two years. While doing this, he was called for an interview at UCT.

“They asked if I was working, and what is it that I do,” Abrahams began his story. “I said I’m a spray-painter and polisher. The interviewer said they had a place for me at UCT and asked when I could start.”

Upon being told to polish the desks on his first day, he was left shocked and surprised.

“I wanted to leave immediately. This is not spray-painting and polishing! I thought the interviewer misunderstood me, or what spray-painting and polishing is. I stayed because I had already resigned at my job as a spray-painter and polisher.”

As he had a family to support, he stayed – a decision he does not regret at all. Over time, UCT proved to be a home, a learning experience, and a place to effect positive change.

Finding a home at Careers Service

From the Centlivres Building, Abrahams moved to work in what is now the Sarah Baartman Hall for six months, cleaning and preparing venues. His next stop would be his home for the rest of his stay – Careers Service. There, he has worked as a department assistant at the office, which now falls within the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). In this office he experienced career development, much like the students who passed through it looking for growth.

Initially it was a very small department, and his duties included messenger work, making photocopies and tidying the office.

“I was a fast learner. Later I did printing, collating and sourcing. I would source in the job section of the newspaper for graduate jobs to put on our noticeboards. This is a completely different story to polishing! But I stayed.”

Fuad Abrahams says that over the years, UCT proved to be a home, a learning experience and a place to effect positive change.

In his time there he began to see transformation happen, thanks to the activities of what was then a small group of office workers. There was a time when the office was never used by students of colour; but plans where afoot to change this, and to draw more students to the facility. The change began with a simple act by a careers counsellor: creating hand-drawn posters. Abrahams set about photocopying hundreds of these posters on bright-coloured paper and putting them up on all the noticeboards around campus.

“Not so long after that, I saw more and more non-white students were sitting in the office, looking through files and making appointments.

“That is where I saw transformation happen. And we got so busy! They needed to find us a bigger space … Our office grew so big that we had to move once or twice – we were just growing and growing. My knowledge was also growing.”

Career growth

With this growth came a growth in responsibilities: data capturing and reporting, arranging UCT and office access for visitors to campus and student employees, doing inventories, equipment management, daily set-ups of meeting rooms, IT support, venue booking, overseeing maintenance of the office, assisting with career expo events, and providing photography for Careers Service and CHED.

Photography was an unexpected request, but a skill he grew into.

“For the expos, we used to hire a photographer. Then, one year my manager told me we were going to buy a camera, and that I could take the pictures. The director later suggested I go on a short course. I went weekly on Saturdays for five hours, for six or seven weeks.


“Early retirement, for me, is not retiring. I do have my small business at home, of spray-painting. I won’t be bored.”

“When I was in this training, they gave us an assignment to take a night picture – without flash, when it’s pitch dark. I could not understand how this can happen! [But] UCT has a lot of historical buildings, [so] I stayed late one night at work, with my tripod and my camera without flash. I did the settings, and the pictures were unbelievable. I got better and better over the years. I picked up Photoshop skills too.”

For such a hands-on person, the COVID-19 lockdown presented a lot of frustration. Like so many, Abrahams was confined to his lounge, trying to do the support work he had done in person for so long. One of the projects he completed from home was compiling a photo library of all the Careers Service events over five years.

Abrahams said the lockdown working experience made him more eager to take early retirement. His retirement days will be dedicated to his family and will bring him back full circle to where he started – spray-painting and polishing.

Spray-painting and family time ahead

“My wife, Warda, said UCT was like my first wife, and she was my second wife. I spent most of my time at UCT.

“We would hardly see each other and spend time with each other. When I’m at home on weekends, I work on spray-painting cars.

“I want to spend some time with my wife, children and grandchildren. I [had] decided to go on early retirement before the lockdown, and now in lockdown it made me more anxious to retire. My wife says I spend so much time at UCT, that I talk so nicely to them; and that she wishes I spoke like that to her when I am at home!” he joked.

“Early retirement, for me, is not retiring. I do have my small business at home, of spray-painting. I won’t be bored.”


“My grandchildren, if they want to come to study at the university, they should be able to.”

Among his other traits, Abrahams is a deep-thinking activist – passionate about labour issues, student causes, transformation and access to education. He said he will miss the people and the friends he met at UCT, staff, students and colleagues; and he highlights a lifelong friendship struck with Rustum Omar, the son of the late activist and cabinet minister Dullah Omar, who was a student at UCT. He said he will also miss doing the lunchtime prayer on campus, where he met and interacted with other people who share his Muslim faith.

Witnessing history

Abrahams’ memories are clear on the importance to him of transformation and change. These include being a part of forming a union presence on campus for workers and supporting #FeesMustFall.

“We were not allowed to have these kinds of [union] gatherings. So we secretly had these meetings in the toilets of the rugby field, with trusted members. Some of the known people who were instrumental in the beginning stages of the union are struggle stalwarts like the late Dullah Omar, and Ebrahim Patel. They guided us through this process. Transformation was not easy, but now I am glad that UCT takes transformation seriously.

“With the #FeelsMustFall movement coupled with #EndOutsourcing, we saw the dignity of our people restored. This was proudly one of the things that I cannot wait to speak to my grandchildren about. As the union, we were very active in #FeesMustFall, we supported them right through that. My grandchildren, if they want to come to study at the university, they should be able to.”

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2021 Retirees Recognition

This year we have the privilege of honouring nearly 90 retirees from across the university, including academic and professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff. It is an opportunity for us to say a deserved thank you to the staff members who have served UCT for as long as they have, and for their ongoing commitment to building the university we are proud to be a part of today.


“On behalf of the entire university community, I would like to thank all the retirees for their service to the university over the years. It is through their hard work and contributions that we are what we are now: one of the best universities globally, and the best in Africa in particular. We will always cherish their collective contributions that helped grow UCT to be an even better university.” – VC Prof Phakeng

This year’s retirees

Please note: photos supplied by the retirees have been included in this gallery. Photos by UCT photographers have also been included where available, including photos taken by senior photographer Lerato Maduna on the day that the Vice-Chancellor visited some of the retirees to thank them in person for their service to UCT over the years. See the full list of retirees’ names.