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A Dance With Danger

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Fleur van Eeden

It’s just another day at the office for Fleur van Eeden as she stands in the hallway of a tall steel warehouse in Atlantic Studios, in Montague Gardens, Cape Town. Under the dim light she is surrounded by piles of timber and fake polystyrene rocks. Here, Van Eeden has found herself jumping from crypts made of foam and fighting villains in gigantic gilded tombs that glow golden and black.

It is a brief behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daily life of an unusual career. Van Eeden is one of the top stuntwomen in South Africa and currently acting as a stunt double for the role of Lara Croft in the up-and-coming Tomb Raider movie starring Alicia Vikander; one the latest action blockbusters to have been filmed in the Mother City.

“If you told me 10 years ago that I was going to be Lara Croft’s stunt double, I would have never believed it. If my career was to end now, I ticked the biggest box,” says Van Eeden.

“When they phoned me for the job I thought it was a joke… You don’t take anything too seriously until you are on the job because anything can happen. The film could disappear out of your country.”

What makes this career choice even more interesting is that Van Eeden came to it by chance. While studying public relations, a friend suggested she try out as an extra on the 2005 series The Triangle.

Van Eeden’s first day on the job saw her left stranded on a rubber duck in the Atlantic Ocean near Robben Island. The second, she was tossed out of a plane like a Caesar Salad.

“They attached a cable to me, said were going to call three, two, one, action and then were going to yank you up in the air. You’re going to free fall… I was as high as a kite; I loved it,” recalls Van Eeden.

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More action was to come. Van Eeden was drawn to the thrill, including becoming the first South African female to do a full body burn – in other words, she volunteered to light herself on fire.

“It’s funny, a lot of people would think being set alight would freak me out. It genuinely doesn’t. Things like that don’t scare me. What scares me is if you’ve seen someone else do a stunt, and you know in your heart that you can do it, and then your stunt director asks you to do it… I can’t sleep the night before,” says Van Eeden.

There was little else for Van Eeden but the outdoors. She grew up in the small town Swellendam, a 218-kilometer drive from Cape Town. From the age of two, Van Eeden was climbing trees. In her teens she took up white-water rafting and horse riding and, as a young adult, she became a South African tug-of-war puller.

Even her 99-year-old grandmother approved of her career choice.

“She was my biggest fan. Can you imagine me saying to me my granny ‘I’ve just lit myself on fire’ and her saying back ‘oh, my word, if I was younger I would have loved to have done that’.”

Behind the stunt industry’s facade of mortal danger comes many, many hours of choreography. Van Eeden spent two and a half months, prior to shooting, building her body for the Tomb Raider role.

“It’s like a dance… If somebody tells you to do a stunt, and you are only willing to do it once, you should not do it. I was 20 and had nothing to lose. What most people don’t realize is in most cases stunts are done more than once… unless it’s a car roll.”

Fleur van Eeden

Fleur van Eeden (Photo by Jay Caboz)

Van Eeden has played roles in all shapes and sizes. Along with working on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road, where she trained with Charlize Theron, Van Eeden spent four years on the set of Black Sails, the historical adventure television series, where she played the role of pirates, boys and the red-haired character Anne Bonny’s double.

“On Black Sails, I was dressed as a boy riding a horse and jumping onto a carriage doing a fight scene and been kicked off the carriage. I wasn’t supposed to be doing the stunt. The guy who was supposed to do the stunt, got kicked off the carriage and hurt his neck, he couldn’t do it. The whole shot was at a standstill,” says Van Eeden.

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The number of top female stunt actors are few, says Van Eeden. You can count a handful of South Africans who are making it. But it is growing, thanks to more movies choosing to shoot in Cape Town – a string of film crews have been using its picturesque landmarks as their port of call, like The Maze Runner, the TV series Troy: Fall of a City, and Tomb Raider.

“You can put five guys next to each other and you will always have one who is better than another. But the women are standing next to the guys, it’s not like there is a women’s side and a men’s,” she says.

By the time Tomb Raider comes out, Van Eeden will be long onto the next set. It will be nearly a year before she can watch herself from the comfort of a chair in the cinema.

A far cry from the dim warehouse where she flung her body in the face of danger.

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Interview

Why We Need ‘Hard Cash In The Economy’

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Busi Mabuza, the Chairperson of the Board of the Industrial Development Corporation, on the BRICS summit and why we need to start talking as an African bloc.

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Focus

The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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Entrepreneurs

The Ghanaian Who Brought HR Corporate America To Ghana

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Ghana is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year, according to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF. Its projected growth in 2018 is between 8.3-8.9%.

The Ghanaian workforce is young, with 57% of the population under the age of 25. This means millions of new graduates enter the workforce each year. One woman who understands the struggle that awaits this unsuspecting group in corporate Ghana is Human Resources (HR) entrepreneur, Rita Kusi.

Kusi is the founder and CEO of Keeping “U” Simply Intact (KUSI) Consulting, a marketing, training and recruiting company based in the United States (US) and in Ghana. She is also the Managing Director of threesixtyGh, a social enterprise company with an online presence showcasing innovative ventures in Ghana and the people behind them.

Born in Bolga, Northern Ghana, Kusi’s family gained access to the US through the US Visa Lottery in the early 80s. The family relocated to the US in 1991 where Kusi remained until 2013. And that is also where she amassed a wealth of experience working in several sectors.

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After college, Kusi worked a number of temporary jobs, from telemarketing in Atlanta to door-to-door sales in Maryland. She even tried her hands at customer services and working in cafes.

“I think for me having held all these jobs opened my eyes and I realized especially what I wanted to do in corporate America,” says Kusi.

All these experiences came together when she applied for a new role as HR assistant. When she did not hear back from the company regarding her application, Kusi took the initiative and called the hiring manager.

“So my dad told me to call and get feedback and as I called my CV happened to be in front of the hiring manager and he invited me in for the interview. I knew nothing about HR but I was just really looking for a job and I ended up getting that job and it was the longest I ever stayed at any job so that was a sign,” says Kusi.

She had finally found her calling in HR but it was not until a nostalgic visit back home that she would merge all her US experience together, ushering in a new life as an entrepreneur.

There were no real training programs at the time focused on improving the quality of customer service in Ghana. Kusi seized the opportunity to provide quality HR training programs, which she hoped organizations would pay for. And they did. This was the birth of Kusi Consulting.

From training services, the company has morphed its offerings into recruitment services and Kusi is now diversifying into skills-training as well as business process outsourcing, where the company handles the pay roll function for other corporate clients. Her timing couldn’t be more perfect. Hiring the right people is critical for companies to reduce employee attrition and enhance returns from HR. Companies face challenges in accurately perceiving and assessing an employee’s quality attributes prior to hiring that employee. This problem is more pronounced in African economies, which involves novices who do not have prior work records attesting to their raw skills, learning abilities and motivation. And this is where Kusi comes in.

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She believes a specialist HR function is imperative in every organization to ensure maximum output by each employee. However, she has had some difficulty convincing corporate Ghana.

“It has been challenging operating here especially being a female because it is literally a man’s world and in this country, it’s all about who you know… There is that challenge of how do I make myself look older and more respected?” she says.

But ever resilient, Kusi refuses to back down. She hopes to create her own temp agency where she has skilled staff inhouse which she can outsource on demand to other companies. Her newly-formed team is just as passionate about the business and with that focus, she is rebranding her company to be a leader in HR not only in Ghana but across Africa.

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