The Table Mountain Cableway has bid farewell to retiring chairman of the board Louis de Waal, who served the company for 40 years, hosting nearly 20 million visitors including royalty and Nobel prize winners, managing a major upgrade to the world class facility and seeing Table Mountain named a New 7Wonder of Nature.
De Waal, now aged 76, was invited to join the board by then chairperson Denis Hennessy. “I think Hennessy wanted an engineer on the board and I was the only one he knew!” says De Waal, who studied civil engineering at the University of Cape Town.
When De Waal became chairperson in 1993 he set about negotiating an upgrade. “It was just before the 1994 elections, a time of great uncertainty and board members John Harrison, Ron Reid and myself had to fit the bill. It was a R103 million loan and we each stood surety for a third – house included, although I never told my wife.” said De Waal.
“I was in favour of a 40 passenger car but John convinced me to go for the Full Monty. John was the right man at the right time. He was a street fighter and also wasn’t scared of spending money. Thank heavens he convinced me.”
De Waal said the first 20 years of his time on the board had been easy going, with the only queues at Christmas. “But the impact of the upgrade was immediate with visitor numbers rising from 300 000 a year to over 700 000. That’s when I turned grey!”
Visitor numbers reached record numbers in the past financial year, thanks to the Vote for Table Mountain campaign which in 2011 resulted in the icon being named a New7Wonder of Nature.
The Cableway company played a leading role in the campaign. “We realized what a fantastic opportunity this was going to be to market Table Mountain. The campaign cost us some money, but my goodness it is paying back; the mountain, cableway, the city and the country all benefit,” says De Waal.
During his time on the board De Waal hosted 20 million visitors, including the rich and famous. An avid sports fan – having played rugby for UCT and Western Province – one of his favourite photographs is of the All Black team running into Archbishop Desmond Tutu outside the Cableway carriage door. “The Archbishop pointed at this giant forward and asked, ‘What do you eat?’. ‘Springboks’, replied the giant.”
The father of three, who celebrates his 50th wedding anniversary in 2014, will have more time to spend with his six grandchildren and to enjoy the family house in Kleinmond. Not forgetting his other passion, cycling.
De Waal, who has completed every Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour, will continue his work with the Bicycling Empowerment Network which he co-founded in 2002. The NGO has recycled about 20 000 bikes, mostly for children who need affordable transport to school.
De Waal leaves the board reassured that the Cableway is in very capable hands: “TMACC is a very nice company with which to be involved. It is hellish well run, not because of me, but by an exceptional team of people.”
Given how busy the Cableway has become and with parking at a premium, current MD Sabine Lehman says the best retirement gift they could offer De Waal is a key to one of the Cableway garages for life.