As Zakhona Mbelu (29) starts constructing the exact sandwich on the order slip in front of her at the Fedics-owned cafeteria at Sanlam’s headquarters in Bellville, she becomes completely engrossed in the task at hand. Yet her quiet demeanour belies the determination and tenacity she has developed over the years as well as her adventurous spirit and secret passion to own her own motorbike one day.
Zakhona, who lives in Mfuleni near Blue Downs, completed Grade 12 in 2007, and then got a job at as a call centre agent at MTN. While there, she completed a range of skills development courses through the mobile service provider and then started working in the Business Sales and Marketing division at AVBOB selling insurance. Later she took on a job as a cleaner and soon after registered with Northlink College to do a National Diploma: Engineering Studies – Electrical (Heavy Current). She completed the diploma up to N5 level, but failed two subjects which led to her bursary being temporarily cancelled.
“In order to continue getting bursary funding, I needed to complete the two subjects on my own and pay for it myself, where after the bursary would kick in again. But I did not have the money to do that,” she explains.
For a while, Zakhona shared a home owned by her eldest sister with three of her siblings. She tried to find a job, but after having no success, she went to father’s house in Durban in 2014 to search for work in that city.
“I stayed there for a whole year and then came back to Cape Town in 2015 because I had still not found work. I went for interviews and applied for more jobs when I heard nothing back, but I found nothing,” she says.
Then, in 2016, a friend who was studying the Health and Frail Care Programme at Bergzicht Training told Zakhona about the programmes on offer.
She registered and completed the Life Skills course, the iPOWER (Self-Empowering) Foundation Programme (previously Home Management Programme) as well as the City & Guilds’ Professional Cooking and Food and Beverage Service Programme, which included a work-integrated learning opportunity at D’Ouwe Werf Hotel in Stellenbosch.
“I really wasn’t sure what to do after completing the iPOWER programme, but when we visited the St Josephs Home as part of our introduction to the frail care programme and then The Private Hotel School to learn about professional cooking, I knew I did not want to work in frail care or as a waitress, but would not mind being a cook or a chef.”
However, getting to classes proved difficult even with the set travel allowance offered by Bergzicht Training. Her younger sister had in the meantime also registered to study …. there.
“I did not want her to worry about travelling to Bergzicht Training, so I started selling vetkoek to help cover all our travelling costs. It was tough, because sometimes business was not doing well and I did not have enough transport money for my sister or myself,” says Zakhona.
When Zakhona completed her programme, Bergzicht Training assisted her to find employment immediately so that she could support her sister who was still completing her programme. “Everyone was very helpful and really listened to my needs. They told me not to worry, that they would help me find a job and then, when I started working and was unable to get enough money to cover my transport costs to work that first month, they made sure I had travelling money to get there for the month.”
When things became strained between Zakhona, her older sister and other siblings, Bergzicht Training ensured Zakhona and Sithelele could move into a place of their own in Mfuleni.
“I don’t know how to thank them for all their support,” she says. “Bergzicht Training has really helped me a lot and my life has changed so much.”
Throughout the uphills she has faced, she has held on to her grandmother’s words: “She always used to tell me that nothing in life is for free, you have to work for everything you want in life and that everything has its own time. So I always knew that God did not create me just to be nothing, that whatever it takes, no matter how long, I could do something with my life and support myself and my family one day. I have always had that positive nature when it comes to myself.
“You have to be positive if you want to get somewhere in life and you have to ask for help. Yes, there are those who will not want to help you, but there are also those who have good hearts and will help you. It’s good to talk to others, to ask for advice, because if you keep quiet, you will die quietly too.”
For now, while Zakona quietly prepares sandwiches in Fedic’s kitchen, she is also working hard to obtain her driver’s licence as well as biker’s licence to buy her own motorbike. “I like speed,” she says, “but I also plan to return to Northlink College someday and finish the last two courses of my diploma so I can hopefully work in the electrical engineering field one day.”
Photo: Shafieka Lewis, cashier at Sustain Fast Foods, a Fedics-owned cafeteria at Sanlam’s headquarters in Bellville speaks to Zakhona Mbelu about the order she is making for a customer.