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Mount Nelson Hotel Cape Town
7th February 2017

Brenda-Lee Martin, 74

Brenda-Lee is mother to four children, grandmother to nine and works on various fundraising projects on a voluntary basis. She left South Africa 35 years ago and now lives in London. Bolder photographed her on location in the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town.

“I think if I wanted to go and get a paid job today, I would never get it. Ageism exists! Both my age and the fact that I’m a woman work against me. I was with my sister recently, buying a train ticket to Brighton. I showed my senior travel pass to the woman behind the counter and she started to speak more slowly to me. People think that once you’re older, your head becomes empty.

I am a firm believer that every human being should be treated with respect; waitress, cleaner or CEO.

I have four children and I do think that to run a home as a mother is just as hard, if not harder, than going out to work. There is no such thing as a housewife; the question should be ‘do you go out to work or do you work at home?’ I found out in one of my jobs that I was being paid less than the men, so I went to my boss and asked him why. His explanation was that the men were the breadwinners, so I had to patiently explain that I was too! I was always there when the children came back from school, helping with their homework. You want each child to reach their own potential. I didn’t care if mine achieved 10% or 98% as long as they had tried hard and it was their best effort. I think it’s true that you are only as happy as your happiest child.

I organised my first fundraising event for townships in South Africa when I was just 12 and although my career was in teaching, I spent many years as a director of a giftware distribution company. Having sold out, I undertook my most worthwhile job working as a director of a large fundraising organisation. I have officially retired now but I continue to work on some charity projects voluntarily. I don’t even think of it as work as I get so much pleasure from it. I have somehow always focused on the ‘have-nots’ in society.

I am a firm believer that every human being should be treated with respect; waitress, cleaner or CEO. If you’re doing a job properly, it is as worthwhile as the next person. I am also a great believer in teamwork. More of ‘we’ and less of ‘me’. Each person can influence the next. There’s a knock-on effect in life.

I’ve had a double bypass and have a pacemaker. I am not as fit as I should be and I certainly don’t have a daily routine but I do try to walk when I can. I eat healthily, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink, aside from a glass of wine if I am out socially. My worst trait is that I take on too much – I can’t say no! My best trait is the opposite of that – I am enthusiastic about many things and am proactive.

More of ‘we’ and less of ‘me’. Each person can influence the next.

I met my current partner on the internet and we have been together for 15 years. I think the secret to a happy partnership is that there should be a level playing field. Each year, we look forward to our annual visit to the wonderful Mount Nelson in Cape Town, where we are able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and break up the English winter. We also visit New York for Thanksgiving and visit Jerusalem regularly, which we find most inspiring. Music is another great passion of ours and we attend concerts at the Festival Hall, the Barbican and Wigmore Hall.

My children make fun of the fact that I don’t leave the house without makeup. Having said that, I would advise not spending too much money on makeup but rather on good skin products.

My life motto is to give unconditionally and one of my favourite quotations is by Dr Margaret Mead, an American author and anthropologist.

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can make a change in the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’”

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