Making a difference
“It is nothing strange to get phone calls in the middle of the night about burst water pipes, electricity outages or even barking dogs…,” Erna laughs. “However, when you make the choice to serve the community, you have to be prepared to be there at all times.”
While interviewing her, the phone never stops ringing. “I’m sorry, can I please answer?” she apologetically asks. It is yet another disgruntled community member and she immediately undertakes to address the problem.
And this is not her only ‘career’. With a legal degree behind her name, Erna has a reputable practice as legal advisor and debt counsellor, advising and assisting people in financial crisis. And if that is not enough, she has just returned from Israel where she passed her Hebrew exam at the University of Israel. She is also known in creative circles for her handmade teddy bears and other crafts, and she even used to bake for a home industry outfit. And then she is a doting mother and grandmother who makes all important time for her family.
“I believe in living life to its fullest, doing as much as you can during your time on earth. Life is wonderful and one should never forget it.”
Being a survivor of cancer, has contributed to this life motto. “It has taught me to be positive and not to brood. I believe in getting up and carrying on.
Live life to the fullest, you don’t know what tomorrow holds, and use your time on earth to do good.
What would seem to most people to be depressing careers, is to Erna a way of giving back, serving and helping people in need. “I was raised by parents who were actively involved in community work, helping those in need and trying to make a difference in people’s lives, so it is just natural that I have chosen a career that enables me to help people in need.”
Although she was studying to be an attorney, she attended a course on debt counselling while busy with her LLB Degree. “During the course I felt that this was a field in which I could really make a difference in people’s lives. South Africa was already in an economic slump and people were struggling. It is an extremely emotional career. I work with people’s belongings, people who have given up hope, people who want to die. It is a wonderful feeling to see the hope return, the marriage being saved… it is all the reward I need. I love making a difference in people’s lives.”
Becoming a politician was never on her agenda. “I have been fighting for the underdog all my life. About eight years ago I became aware of an illegal granite operation in out beautiful natural area. I drove the court case for the community and we won. It was exciting and the judge told me in his judgement he admired my passion. Soon after I was approached to stand for the local municipal elections and I realised I could help the community and our beautiful environment in the process. It is not easy and often a thankless job, but when I am able to better the lives of people around me, it is utterly rewarding.”
It is still not easy for woman to make their mark in the business and political world, she says. “Even in these times of so-called ‘equality’, women have to work twice as hard as men to prove themselves. However, I am not intimidated and I stand strong for what I believe in. And to top it all, I have my husband, Danie, standing strong by my side,” she laughs.
“He is my personal assistant, bodyguard, life coach and best friend. It is only with his support, that I can do what I do.”
She strongly believes in a balanced lifestyle. “That is why we escape to a little farm in the Waterberg every three months where I charge my batteries and feel near to nature and my Creator.”
And she cannot be idle. “I cannot sit and watch television. My hands find something to do. I do pottery, make teddy bears, knit and even if I say it myself, I am an excellent baker.”
She is a very private person and prefers to spend quality time with her family. “We are very close-knit and I love having my two daughters and two grandchildren around. I am grandma that hugs,” she laughs. “I really miss them when they are not around.”
Any special goals for the future?
“I am satisfied that I can serve people where I am right now. My priorities are to enjoy life with my husband and to grab life with both hands. Live and enjoy every moment.”