From taxi gaatjie to businessman - Manenberg man's road to success

2016-12-26 06:53
Eshaam Abrahams, a former Manenberg taxi guard who now has his own tourism business. (Tammy Peteesen, News24)

Eshaam Abrahams, a former Manenberg taxi guard who now has his own tourism business. (Tammy Peteesen, News24)

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Cape Town - For years, Eshaam Abrahams was the man who opened the taxi doors and shouted out the vehicle’s destination to potential passengers as the minibus snaked its way through the streets of Manenberg.

But today, he is in the driving seat of his own tourism business, showing local and international visitors the sights of the Mother City he only got to see as a driver for a Cape Town hotel.

Abrahams, 32, is the owner of EA Travel and Tours, which he started after a German tourist he ferried around for three days was so impressed by his service, he decided to buy him a car to start his own business.

Polishing the Toyota Avanza parked in front of his home in one of Cape Town’s most gang-ridden communities, Abrahams said he still couldn’t believe the vehicle belonged to him.

Growing up in a one-bedroom council flat where money was extremely tight, a car was considered a luxury, he recalled.

His father was retrenched from his job at a Cape Town timber company when he was a teenager and studying mechanical engineering at a FET college, putting further strain on their already difficult finances, Abrahams said.

“I knew I had to find a job to help my mom and cover my college fees. Some of my friends were working on the taxis and I thought I would give being a gaatjie a shot. During the holidays, I would work every day of the week, from early in the morning to late at night.”

Being a taxi guard involves endless marketing, Abrahams, 32, joked.

“You need to sell the journey and charm the potential passengers. Once they’re inside, they need to be entertained. It’s much more than shouting ‘Athlone, Mowbray, Kaap’ through the window and collecting fares,” he laughed.

Enjoy every moment

But balancing the responsibility of earning a wage and studying became too much for him and he dropped out of college.

He continued to work on the taxis, but started saving towards driving lessons so that he could obtain his licence and professional driving permit.

“I wanted to move a step up from being the boy controlling the door making jokes with the girls. I passed my licence on my first attempt.

“I became a driver and enjoyed every minute of it. You drive the same route, but every journey is different because you have all these different kinds of people in the van. I loved being my own boss, even though I was driving someone else’s taxi.”

After a few years behind the wheel, he was employed as a driver at a top Cape Town hotel.

“Wow, the places I got to see while driving the tourists around. We went to Constantia, on the wine route and all these fancy parts of the city most people from the Cape Flats sadly never get to see. And I had to swap my ‘Athlone, Mowbray, Kaap’ for a polite ‘good morning sir, good morning ma’am’,” he quipped.

A friend showed him an advert offering tourism courses in a local newspaper and he started seriously thinking about his future.

“I have seen the tour guides in action and I was doing the same thing, but without the papers. I was living from hand to mouth, even though I was the first person at work in the morning and the last one to leave at night.”

The friend then offered to pay the R5 500 for the two week course and he signed up.

Best moment ever

“I would attend the classes from 09:00 until 14:00 and then go to work until midnight. When I got home I would do my assignments, catch a few hours’ sleep and do it all again. I would have to squeeze my research and assignments in during my work breaks,” Abrahams said.

He passed the course and receiving his certificate was the “best moment ever”.

“I never finished school or college. This was my first achievement – being an official and registered tour guide.”

He continued to work as the hotel driver, but doubled as a guide to make use of the things he learned in the course.

He met German tourist and businessman Thomas Deutschenbaur earlier this year when he was looking for a taxi to take him to a meeting in Blackheath.

“We chatted all the way there and back. I told him that I lived in one of the most dangerous places in Cape Town, but it’s also the most hospitable and tight knit community. By the end of that conversation, he had decided he was going to come to tour Manenberg.”

After pies and samosas at his mother’s Colleen Court home, Abrahams showed Deutschenbaur every corner of his hometown.

“He got the whole experience. I even got the local nagtroep and klopse to perform ‘Welcome to Cape Town’ for him. He had a beer with some of the guys and told us it was actually his birthday that day. He loved it here and stayed until 22:00. He didn’t want to leave.”

When he returned Deutschenbaur to his hotel, the businessman asked him why he didn’t buy his own car and make a living off his tours.

Paycheck to paycheck

Abrahams explained his financial situation, saying he was living from paycheck to paycheck.

“When I dropped him at the airport the next day, he told me not to worry – he was going to help me. I found that unbelievable; who does something like that for someone you barely know?”

Abrahams was retrenched a short while later, and hired a car which he used to visit city hotels offering discounted tours.

He stayed in touch with Deutschenbaur and a few months later, he got a call from a Wynberg car dealership telling him to collect his silver Toyota Avanza.

“They phoned me on Eid and when I got there, there my car was – with the bow and everything! I couldn’t believe he had done this for me. I thanked him continuously for two weeks.”

He registered his business and was ready to hit the road.

“I keep myself busy; if I don’t have customers, I go out and find them. But most of my tours are referrals from people I have driven in the past. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.”

He has given customised tours to everyone from Austrian opera singers to Emirati photographers, but only a select few have been invited to the Abrahams home for koeksisters and pies. 

“Because my business is still in its infancy, I am willing to put in the hours to get it to where I want it to be. I am the guide, the photographer, the driver, all in one. My slogan is, ‘Don’t just be a tourist, be an explorer’. I want my clients to have the best ride of their life.”

He hopes to one day grow his business to where he can employ struggling locals.

“I want to see my people aspire for better. I want to see the people with talent and potential live up to it and not waste it by getting involved in drugs and bad things. I want to help drive change in Manenberg.”

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