While her career entails a lot of travelling, company managing director Michelle de Bruyn loves returning to the city.
Michelle was born in Cape Town but when her family just two years old she was moved to live in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
After working at the Department of Trade and Industry, assisting with drafting various economic development policies and strategies, one of her peeves was commuting to work daily.
“When I returned to Cape Town 15 years ago, I told myself I was never going to commute again, so I decided that I would move to the CBD, near to where I work.”
She now lives in Tamboerskloof, and, on some days, she walks through the Company’s Garden to her workplace on Greenmarket Square.
Michelle is the South African managing director of Kaiser Economic Development Partners, a company which works on projects addressing economic development in Africa. “It’s different aspects of economic development – research, feasibility studies, drafting policies and building relationships between stakeholders; it is all about partnerships,” she said.
“When I worked at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) I gained exposure to stakeholder perspectives which opened my eyes to many issues that I was sheltered from before then.
“We are fortunate to have some clients who are all just a few blocks away from us, like the Department of Economic Development and Wesgro,” she said.
However, her work also entails lots of travelling. “Half of our work done is in South Africa, and half of it is elsewhere. We often have to travel to meet with stakeholders, but it all depends on the project. For example, we do a lot of work in West Africa supporting countries to get greater local economic benefits from mining investments.”
Michelle said while Cape Town is not necessarily the best place to be located logistically, the founder of Kaiser thought the quality of life is better here.
“Gauteng could have been a better location in terms of business opportunities and logistics, but we always said we would rather fly up a few times and have a better quality of life.”
She said on average, she travels about once a month. However, she feels like taking a break from the city every now and then to keep a healthy balance. “People in the city sometimes get so caught up that they forget they are connected to the rest of the continent. So when I come back, I see the city differently; for example when I come back from West Africa, I am more aware of all the West African residents and businesses in the city, and all the threads linking us. We have so many diverse people in the city, but so often we use the space in isolation from each other.”
She said since she started working on the square 15 years ago, a lot has changed.
“We used to have a security guard to walk us to our parking a few blocks away because we worked late nights, but now the security is much better. The Central City Improvement District has made a huge difference. It’s much safer now. “
She also said the nightlife activity on Greenmarket Square has grown. “It’s great to see more action on the square. It makes it a lot safer to have people around at night, and over the years it has also become more residential.”
She said a lot of the energy has moved further up to Bree Street, and places she and her friends loved to dine has closed down as a result of this.
“We had a favourite on St George’s Mall which closed last year, and Primi Piatti also closed down many years ago. It was sad to see them go. But hopefully with the new energy, more businesses will start staying open later.”
One of the highlights of Michelle’s city life is the annual community jazz concert held on Greenmarket Square as part of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
“We invite our colleagues in the building, and some neighbours and friends over, and we have a little rooftop party. We can see the stage clearly from the rooftop. When the weather doesn’t allow, we just open the windows and enjoy the music.
“I wish they would have more events like those on the square – we would love the city to always be buzzing and being enjoyed by a wide diversity of Capetonians.”