Flying high with Table Mountain Cableway's main man
For Mike Williams, operations executive at the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC), work is something of a pleasure.
Not only does he get to spend his days ensconced in the splendour of Table Mountain, one of the seven Wonders of the natural world, he also gets to work with people who have become his "family".
“The sense of Ubuntu, of helping each other through team-work and old-fashioned family values within our organisation has humbled me over the years. It gives me a deep sense of gratitude for the work we do and the space we inhabit,” said Williams.
During major upgrades in 1997, staff lived on the mountain for two-week stints, during which the camaraderie and fellowship that Williams speaks of was indispensable. The connections forged there – between colleagues and with the mountain itself – have blossomed into lifelong bonds of friendship.
The balancing act required to manage the operations of a world-famous ecotourism attraction against the preservation of the mountain and its environs is a challenge that Williams has taken on and so far looks set to win.
He explained that no waste water is allowed to be left in this fragile habitat. “So, every drop used must be carried up and down in huge 3 000 litre tanks at the base of each cable car. These tanks also function as stabilising ballasts against heavy winds.”
Williams added that these measures ensure that the mountain’s fragile water system is undisturbed and preserved in its natural state.
“The supplies needed to captivate and sustain the eager throngs of visitors everyday must also be carried up on the cars. This means that visitors enjoying the delectable cuisine served up by our mountain-top restaurant must do so on compostable plates to avoid using water for washing dishes.”
TMACC is a major player and one of the key signatories of the ‘Responsible Tourism’ initiative, working closely with SANParks, who are mandated to preserve the sensitive ecosystem of Table Mountain, and also with the Cape Town Tourism and the City of Cape Town.
Due to its stature within the Cape Town tourism setting, TMACC has mentored many smaller companies, helping them achieve compliance with the three key pillars of the Cape Town Responsible Tourism Initiative: Corporate Social Investment (CSI); environmental management; and sustainable communities.
Williams said that every one of the 250 permanent employees at TMACC are empowered and upskilled during their time with the organisation.
“This, through the SIYAFUNDISA learnership programme for staff, and through extensive bursaries which were grant for further education. We believe that every employee should leave with more that they came in with.”
When he initially took over technical operations of TMACC thirty years ago, the infrastructure was reliable, but archaic. Years of sanctions during the apartheid era meant that he and his team were accustomed to making do with the bare minimum of resources. This situation demanded a thrifty ingenuity, with rigorous checks and maintenance done on all parts, since new equipment was difficult to come by.
A new democracy in 1994 saw the dawn of new hope for the Cape’s most iconic landmark, and the beginnings of a major upgrade to the cableway. Under Williams’s stewardship, this process integrated new environmental management standards to nurture and protect the mountain’s precious ecosystem.
“When I started 30 years ago, it was all about looking after the cableway. Now it’s all about looking after the health and safety of the mountain, its ecosystems and habitats. The human tourists who ride the cable cars are but one in a multitude of species,” he joked.
While his duties as custodian of Cape Town’s most precious wonder have expanded significantly with the rise in tourism numbers (100 percent in two decades), he still feels fortunate to be working in a place he loves, among colleagues who are like family and bringing joy to the hearts of countless visitors.