While most politicians are preparing for the municipal elections in August, Sub-council 1 chairwoman and Ward 107 councillor Heather Brenner is getting ready to retire to the coastal village of Great Brak River.
The straight-talking politician regards her retirement as the next chapter in a life where she has played many roles including mother, housewife, performer, journalist and politician.
Speaking to Tabletalk (a newspaper she started single-handedly 27 years ago) in her office at the council chambers in Milnerton last week, Ms Brenner spoke candidly about friends, foes, coalitions and elections.
“It has never frightened me to get up and speak,” she says, peering over her spectacles.
“I’ll be dead in 15 years, and no one is going to give a damn, so I might as well have my say.”
Ms Brenner believes it has been this attitude of not being intimidated and facing negativity head on that led her to prosper in life.
“I’ve never been intimidated. I remember reading a book when I was a child about a little Irish girl who was confronted by a cow, and she was terrified. And she had heard somewhere, ‘Always face up to things, and look them in the eye.’ That little phrase has always stayed with me.”
Ms Brenner, originally from England, moved to the then Transvaal with her family when she was 12. By the age of 23 she was married and settled in Milnerton.
She bore two children and was a “busy housewife” who taught ballroom dancing.
“I used to love dancing. Dancing is not, what my father used to call, ‘a proper job’. But my greatest love has always been drama. I would write, direct, act, work behind the scenes, you name it. And I do believe it’s that theatrical background that has groomed me for this post. You direct.”
Her husband died in 1984, and three years later, Ms Brenner started Tabletalk. Her children were grown and leaving home, and she was ready to sink her teeth into a challenge.
The idea came from her friend, Isabel Hutchinson, a previous chairman of the Table View Ratepayers’ Association (TVRA) who encouraged her to start a local newspaper.
Although she had no experience, she had a love for writing and “logic and organisational skills” that helped her start the paper. She says that during the 18 years of running Tabletalk she attended every meeting of previous councils.
“I would have to be just about dying to have not attended a meeting, and I would be there from start until finish. I got most news from council meetings.”
Because she had taken such an interest in these meetings, she says it was a natural progression to move into a political post when she left journalism.
“I decided to go into politics because after 18 years I’d had enough of all the local stories, and I saw local government as my next step”.
She was 67 when she accepted the post of PR councillor for the DA in the 2006 elections.
In 2009 she was elected as chairwoman of Sub-council 1. It was a post she thoroughly enjoyed.
“I have no regrets. I’ve loved every minute of it, warts and all. “
Ward 23 councillor Nora Grose wished Ms Brenner and her partner, Andy, “a happy, healthy and restful retirement.”
“Now they can take time to smell the roses and enjoy getting old together, knowing her job was done and well-done. I would like to thank Alderman Brenner for her leadership, guidance and fairness I have come to experience since my involvement with Sub-council 1. Her commitment, dedication and work ethics were to be commended. Her fairness in evaluating each decision on its merits, whether it was favourably accepted by everyone, was always constant. Her rulings in sub-council were never a “grey area” – right was right and wrong was wrong. Something that was not always well received by residents. Her knowledge on municipal matters and history within the sub-council extends over many years and one could always rely on her knowledge to recall the history of many decisions if and when necessary,” said Ms Grose.
James Vos, a former Ward 5 councillor and now a member of parliament, said Ms Brenner had always been very supportive and willing to give him advice.
“I remember meeting Heather when she worked as a journalist at Tabletalk. It was during an interview after my election in 2000 as ward councillor for Bothasig and Edgemead. Heather was firm, fair, and consistent. You knew where you stood with her, and if you got a telling off, you most likely deserved it, and once said, it was over and done with.
“She was very good at encouraging initiatives and cultivating team work, and the sub-council greatly benefited from her tenure as chairman.
Heather was a good listener and delegator, it was as if she followed the maxim: ‘The best way to keep power is to share it, and the best way to influence is to listen.’ I wish her and her family all the best as she enters into a new phase of her life. Heather, congratulations on your retirement. Now you have more time to work on everything that you’ve been putting off for so long,” he said.