‘Happy, sad, grateful’ – retiree Fouzia Thesen reflects

11 November 2020 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Lerato Maduna. Voice Neliswa Sosibo. Read time 5 min.
Fouzia Thesen will be retiring from UCT after 20 years in the Communication and Marketing Department. She was photographed with her granddaughter Leila who received her BSocSci degree from UCT last year and is now an honours student.
Fouzia Thesen will be retiring from UCT after 20 years in the Communication and Marketing Department. She was photographed with her granddaughter Leila who received her BSocSci degree from UCT last year and is now an honours student.
 

On the eve of retiring from the University of Cape Town (UCT), and after an eventful 20 years as a member of Properties & Services cleaning services, Fouzia Thesen said that she is approaching her official last day on 31 December “happy, sad and grateful”.

“Aunty Fouzie”, as she is fondly known in the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD) where she works, said that she has mixed emotions as her retirement draws near. But mostly, she relishes the opportunity to breathe.

She was born in the Western Cape, the eldest of ten children (six sisters and four brothers). Her mother, Zuleiga Thesen, was a child minder and worked in the province’s clothing industry; and her father worked as an engineer. The young Fouzia followed her mother into the clothing industry, starting at RK Fashions when she was just 15.

Thesen spent three decades working as a machinist before she came to UCT. With the industry rocked by the vagaries of the economy and the increase in international imports, she was retrenched three times, back to back.

New learning, people and places

“I started working at a young age to help my mother support the family,” Thesen said. After the series of retrenchments, she tried UCT. The door opened for her, and her first job was with the Faculty of Law. After a year there she moved to CMD, where she has been ever since.

 

“I never felt like I was a cleaner. I felt an equal.”

“I have loved every moment of it. I learnt how to use electronics better, and machines such as printers, and became a professional! I was very happy in the Communication and Marketing Department. I loved working with the staff, and everyone made me feel welcome. I never felt like I was a cleaner. I felt an equal,” she said.

“I also learnt how to communicate with people better, and this helped in my private life. I became more knowledgeable about students and the different challenges they face – and I used this to support my granddaughter during her time [studies] at UCT.”

As part of the department’s year-end celebrations, Thesen said, she also visited places she would never have gone on her own.

“I was introduced to people from diverse backgrounds – and from all over the world.”

 

“That was another great moment, and memorable because it elevated my living standard – all thanks to UCT students.”

A lot has changed at UCT in 20 years, she said. One of the most momentous events was the insourcing of contract cleaning and other services, formally announced from 1 July 2016. Some 1 000 insourced employees became part of the UCT community.

“That was another great moment, and memorable because it elevated my living standard – all thanks to UCT students.”

Among her proudest moments was seeing her granddaughter graduate from UCT, the first in the family to earn a degree. In 2019 Leila Thesen completed her BSocSci and is now an honours student at UCT.

Deep breath

After December, Thesen will take a deep breath. Yes, she will miss all the interaction with colleagues, and the walks in summer up Chapel Road in Rosebank between UCT’s artificial soccer turf and the Mowbray Bowling Club to Welgelegen, where the department is housed.

But now it’s time to be at home to take care of her 89-year-old mother and herself.

“I’ve worked for so long that I deserve to finally rest and just breathe. I’m in the process of starting a home garden, and will be taking better care of myself through self-care trips to spoil myself.”

But she is content.

“I’ve learnt a lot; that life is too short to focus on small things. Look at the big picture instead. I also learnt how to be supportive to the students, which I have tried to be to my granddaughter.”

She concluded: “I will miss all of my colleagues that I’ve been working with for 20 years. Thank you, Kylie [Hatton], Gerda [Kruger] and Olwen [Manuel] for all the lovely lunches. Thank you everyone in the Communication and Marketing Department, for everything.”


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