Kekana's blood as blue as Ford logo

Master trainer at Ford Motor Company, Eleanor Kekana.
Master trainer at Ford Motor Company, Eleanor Kekana.
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

Eleanor Kekana may be two years away from retirement, but her love for the automotive industry she has served for 35 years is by no means waning.

The 61-year-old Kekana from Mamelodi in Tshwane is the master trainer at the Ford plant in Silverton, east of Pretoria.

Her job entails training staff members to assemble cars from scratch using her years of experience and the knowledge she acquired from working in various production

Although the automotive industry was male dominated when she first joined, Kekana was not fazed.

She rose through the ranks from being a stock counter in the plant to stock managing and assembling cars.

"My blood is as blue as the Ford logo," she said jokingly.

Kekana said she was raised in a family of 13 in a four-roomed house. "We used to sleep under the dining room table on the floor because there were too many of us in a small house with my parents," she said. "Those humble beginnings made me know I had to work hard to have my own house and bedroom."

Kekana joined the Ford plant in 1983 without a matric but with a desire and a dream to succeed.

In 1987, after giving birth to her last-born child, she decided to return to school part-time to finish her matric.

"I went back to night school after realising that working in an entry-level position in such a big company was not enough to get me growth for a better salary and raising my kids," she said.

Kekana, who now heads one of the biggest plant operations in Southern Africa, said she has since been to Japan and India for training through the company's skills development programmes.

When she turned 50, she graduated with a diploma in motor production technology, a feat that has inspired young employees who she has mentored in the business.

"I believe in education and I want young people to take it seriously because that is an investment and a lifetime inheritance that no one can ever take [away] from you once you have it," said Kekana.

She said at her age she keeps going strong by eating well and going to the gym to keep fit for the gigantic production plant she works in.

"Working with cars for so many years, I have developed an adrenaline for fast cars."

She said her favourite car is the 2018 Mustang GT, which she described as "my obsession".

"I'm taking part of my pension money to buy myself a [Ford] Everest because it is one of the cars that I have built myself and a proudly South African make under my direct supervision.

"I am currently leading a team that builds the latest models of Ford Ranger double cabs and Ford Everest SUVs, and there's nothing else I would rather do," said Kekana.

One of Kekana's proteges at the plant, Thomas Mahlangu, 36, said: "Mama Eleanor is an amazing woman and has made a great impact in my career ... I have learnt to build cars because of her."

Another employee, Cynthia Kgopana, who works as a plant process coach, said Kekana is an ambassador of hope and hard work.

"Even when you call her to come [and] help out with backlogs for car orders over the weekend, she comes in with a smile because she loves and knows what she is doing," said Kgopana.