Durban-born Cat Nienaber started her career at KMI Airport when it first opened in 2002, and hasn’t looked back since.
Cat studied tourism management at Technicon Pretoria before coming to the Lowveld. “I’m sure that after 20 years, you could say I’m part of the furniture!” she laughs. “I have grown not only in my work but as an individual. It is so fulfilling to have accomplished so much and still be able to learn more about what I do and who I am, every day.”
She started as a customer service agent but was promoted to supervisor after a year. “I was then asked by the managing director, at that time Johan Manning, if I would be interested in taking over the PA role at the airport, and still assist with managing customer service – I didn’t even hesitate!” says the go-getter. While in this role, Cat added to her workload, taking on marketing, events and PR responsibilities, all while still doing her PA duties. “I recall at one stage I was just trying to get to everything and still spend time with my family. I broke down in tears at work one day – it was all just too much. But I managed to keep it together. Don’t we all?” she laughs.
When Cat was asked to take over as marketing manager, she jumped at the chance. She was already fulfilling a share of the role as part of her duties as PA, so it made sense to make it official. “I’ve always been hard on myself and pushed myself to do more and be better than I was the day before,” she explains. “I’m a firm believer that hard work pays off.” She explains that as a strong-minded, career-driven woman, she loves to organise and help others wherever possible. “Doing more than what is expected is my motto in life, and this goes for everything, from my family and friends to work and work colleagues. I also love to socialise, but at the same time I often come across as an introvert,” she smiles. “I recall certain people (who are now close friends) saying that when they first met me, they thought I did not want to ‘mingle’ with them, but getting to know me, they soon came to realise that that wasn’t the case. I suppose I just feel more comfortable around people I know. “
Cat’s position means she sees many people come and go, and the job can get quite exciting, especially when the rich and famous cross her threshold. Her enthusiasm for her job is obvious, as she talks about how much she loves what she does. “There are so many challenges,” she says, “which is what keeps me on my toes, all the while learning something new every day. I’ve met and seen so many interesting people, including plenty of celebrities, from presidents to international movie stars, famous singers and bands. I must admit, even though we are extremely private about their arrival and departure, I sometimes take a few sneaky photos to send to friends and family, just so they can share in the star-struck moment! I can honestly say that all of them are normal people like you and I. I think walking around our airport in a cap, jeans and T-shirt with flip-flops is their way of relaxing, taking a break from all the glitz and glam. After all, everyone has flip-flop bad hair days,” she laughs.
Managing the airport and hobnobbing with the stars is only one facet of this busy working mum. Cat has been married to Jaco for 11 years, and the couple have one daughter, Minoa. “I would’ve loved to have more children,” she smiles, “but I’m very grateful that God has blessed us with our beautiful girl. Balancing home and work has been quite a challenge, but somehow you just always find a way. I always look at other mums being so actively involved with their kids at school and being at every sport event, and I feel guilty for not being able to do the same for my daughter. But I soon came to realise that it’s not the number of things you can do for your kids, or what car you drive, where you stay, or even if you’re a working mum or not, the smile on your child’s face ultimately defines you as a mother, as a parent.”
She goes on to add that if your child is happy and content, nothing else really matters, and that comparing ourselves to one another is pointless, as we all live different lives and face different challenges that no one else knows about. “After all, being a mum is probably the hardest job in the world, but also the most rewarding. There isn’t a career opportunity, new house or new car that could ever compare to the true happiness I feel when my daughter wraps her arms around me and says, ‘I love you, mummy!’ That is unconditional love. The thing is that my workplace can replace me within a heartbeat, but no one can replace my daughter. Time spent with her is a must – and by this, I mean real time – doing the things she loves, no matter how silly I might feel doing them!” she laughs.
These things include a lot of “girly time”, from snacks and candlelight in an overflowing bubble bath to make-up sessions, painting and drawing, dancing and creating their own moves as they go along, karaoke in the car to pitching “tents” in the lounge with blankets and enjoying “carpet picnics”. “Another one of our favourite things to do,” adds Cat, “is to go shopping, and enjoying an ice cream or milkshake afterwards.” Minoa grins broadly, tossing back her silky, long blonde hair and reaching over to give her mum a squeeze. Smiling broadly, she nods in agreement – milkshakes are definitely a favourite.
Cat smiles as she says she gets inspiration from anything new, fitting new things and new ways into her jam-packed life. “I never know when I’m going to find the time for everything,” she says, laughing. Cat is also inspired by her daughter. “This may sound like a cliché,” she says, “but Minoa is my inspiration, every day. On the days when I’m at my worst, she’s the one who picks me up, and I learn so much from her. She keeps me grounded and reminds me that we should always believe and have faith like children do, and that thought is what inspires me the most!”
Photographer: Belinda Erasmus, Belle-Grace Photography
Make-up: Elsabé Steyn, Elsabé Steyn Styling Studio
Venue: Salsa Mexican Grill, Mbombela