Johannesburg, 25 January 2016 – Nelson Mandela once said: “A bright future beckons. The onus is on us, through hard work, honesty and integrity to reach for the stars.” Pamella Ndwalane shares the great man’s sentiments. Driven by a strong desire to provide for her family and to create a better life for herself, she moved from KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg a year ago in search of better job prospects. With hard work and dedication, she has managed to become a supervisor in one of the trendiest eateries in Johannesburg.
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
When Ndwalane completed her matric in 2011, she went to study Office Administration at a Further Education and Training (FET) College for two years. Like many, she believed her qualification was going to give her a head-start into the world of work. But it wasn’t to be as she struggled to find work in her chosen field. As a result, she had to be satisfied with working in retail stores. “I was frustrated when I didn’t find work that was in line with my qualification in my home town Port Shepstone and in Durban. I then decided to come to Joburg to live with my aunt and to search for job opportunities,” says Ndwalane.
After a few months being unemployed in Johannesburg, Ndwalane’s fortunes changed when her aunt handed her an application form regarding vocational training for waiters and waitresses by Riversands Incubation Hub in partnership with Tintswalo at Waterfall – an exclusive five-star boutique hotel. Following her application, Ndwalane was accepted for the two-week theoretical and practical training programme.
The programme which was held at Tintswalo at Waterfall – due to the fact that Riversands Incubation Hub premises weren’t complete at the time – was conducted by Nicola Neal, the Head SME Development and Siya Kobo, a hugely talented South African chef. In addition to the theoretical training, as part of the training programme, candidates went into the Tintswalo at Waterfall kitchen with Kobo to learn the basics of food preparation and menu design. This insight equipped them to engage knowledgeably with patrons. The experiential learning process also included a wine tasting, a session with a barista and learning how to shake a cocktail. After completion, candidates got an opportunity to be trainee waiters and waitresses at Tintswalo Waterfall and some were fully employed at the boutique hotel. Ndwalane wasn’t so lucky.
Ndwalane flourishes at CAFÉ LITE at Riversands Incubation Hub
However, due to the fact that she had made a good impression during the training programme, she was regularly called to assist whenever there were functions at the newly-opened Riversands Incubation Hub.
With the belief that “winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit” Ndwalane kept coming to Riversands Incubation Hub to assist and continued to learn. Her positive attitude paid off because during one of the functions she was assisting in, she met the owner of CAFÉ LITE, Chef Dereck Nair also known as Chef-D.
Chef-D has one eatery in Bryanston and the other at Riversands Incubation Hub – where his business is being incubated – and gave Ndwalane an opportunity to work for him as a waitress whenever he catered sizeable events.
“From the moment I met Pamella [Ndwalane], I liked her confidence and strong character, something that’s important in the culinary world. I saw that she was people-oriented, was a quick thinker and she knew the basics. She was always eager to learn and not afraid to ask questions. I also liked her work ethic, she always went above and beyond the call of duty and she still does even today,” says Chef-D. Ndwalane must have continued to make a great impression because as time went on, Chef-D employed her full-time as a waitress and in November 2015, he promoted her to be the supervisor at CAFÉ LITE in Riversands Incubation Hub.
Besides having a passion for food, Chef-D is serious about mentoring young people and providing job opportunities. Since being at Riversands Incubation Hub, he has trained and employed about eight staff members as waiters and cooks. He explains that, “the essence of CAFÉ LITE is based on my outlook on values and skills and how these aspects relate directly to a sustainable business. I place great emphasis on sharing, skills development and personal fulfilment of every client and employee. Without an effective investment in staff resources and their development, the operation would not attain full potential.”
As supervisor, Ndwalane is Chef-D’s second-in-command. She helps to make sure everything runs smoothly at the restaurant even when Chef-D isn’t around. Ndwalane almost teared up when describing her working relationship with Chef-D – whom she considers a mentor and father figure. “My boss is so kind, he’s polite even when angry and he doesn’t act superior. He treats all of us the same way, it’s like we’re all his children.”
In her tenure as a waitress and supervisor, Ndwalane has been highly involved in occasions where CAFÉ LITE catered successfully for large events held at Riversands Incubation Hub. This includes the 2015 Jobs Fund Conference, Riversands Incubation Hub’s 2015 Heritage Day event, the 5by20 event by Coca-Cola South Africa in partnership with UN Women and Microsoft South Africa’s 2015 year-end function. She says her new position hasn’t changed her. “I’m still the same person, I don’t just give orders. I get involved and assist my team. I like leading by example. At the end of the day, it’s all about teamwork,” she says.
“Challenges are what make life interesting, overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
While Ndwalane admits that hospitality or the culinary world had not always been her passion, she says she is “loving every minute of it” now. “I love meeting new people from all walks of life and communicating with them.” Ndwalane says being employed has changed her life drastically and has given her independence. She has since moved out from her aunt’s home and is now able to afford to pay her own rent. As the only person who is working in her home, she’s also able to support her family in KwaZulu-Natal. This includes her mother, three-year-old son and five siblings. “My upbringing wasn’t easy. I was raised by a single mother who sacrificed a lot for us, so everything I do is for her. I also want my son and siblings to have all the things I didn’t have,” says Ndwalane.
The 21-year-old says the fact that she has achieved so much in such a short space of time and at such a young age is still surreal to her and she isn’t planning on slowing down. Asked what she hopes to achieve in future, Ndwalane emphatically says, “I want to have a successful business like my boss Chef-D. I want to make a name for myself in this industry (hospitality)”
She concluded: “I hope that my story can inspire my peers to never give up. Challenges are always there, but you must keep fighting, that’s what I did. I’m not perfect, I fell pregnant at a young age and I couldn’t find a job after studying, but that didn’t stop me. I stood up and fought for what I wanted. It’s hard, but you need to be strong. I’m also grateful to Riversands [Incubation Hub], I hope they continue to give people like me a platform.”
By Simangele Mzizi