Cooking home food for Mandela, the ‘ordinary man’

Xoliswa Ndoyiya prepared meals for Nelson Mandela for 18 years; his personal chef saw a very different side of the world icon.

Guest speaker at the opening dinner for the Mandela Colloquium exhibition titled Provoke/Ukuchukumisa/Daag-uit, Ndoyiya said: “Nelson Mandela was an ordinary person. I remember one morning, he woke up and wanted cereal and not his usual porridge, mixed with nuts and raisins.”

That may have sounded like a simple request, except that Mandela’s menus had to be cleared by both his medical and security teams — so Ndoyiya was forced to refuse his request. “I was worried that his blood pressure would go up and I would be in trouble.”

Mandela reluctantly ate his porridge, but then asked Ndoyiya to sit down next to him and listen very carefully. He said: “I’ve honoured my mother enough.” She then realised that all the years she had been feeding Mandela, she had symbolised his mother, who had fed him that same porridge throughout his childhood.

She also witnessed him as a father figure, loving the many grandchildren who shared his home, but also being extremely strict at times.

“He would punish and say things you wouldn’t think he could say with his mouth. He would say to the children: ‘If one of you is not at the table on time, nobody will eat.’ There were times when all the kids would go to bed without food.” It was a way of discipline that demonstrated that their actions not only affected themselves.

But more often than not, Mandela “used food to love people”. And when he hosted guests at his house, they would often enjoy “home food” — traditional Xhosa meals. These were the meals served at the exhibition dinner, carefully selected and prepared by Ndoyiya herself for the event.

She said: “The old people especially, they wanted their home food … And I used to serve everyone coming to his house with love and dignity. I knew I was doing this for all the South Africans who wished to be with him, but couldn’t be there.

“Tata would say that whether you are with your enemies or your friends, you should show them love with food. He also said to me many times: ‘If you give people food, believe me, whatever you ask from them, they are going to give it to you.’”

Ndoyiya would sometimes receive unusual requests from Mandela.

On a visit to Qunu in 1995, Mandela remembered a good orthopaedic hospital in Mthatha and wanted to visit it. They drove there, and although the care was still good, he was shocked at how the hospital had deteriorated. He later organised its upgrading.

“He looked for the ward with the children. He saw their broken legs and ribs, but he also saw the hunger in their faces. When we left, he asked me to go to the shops to buy food to feed the children.

“That was the beginning of it. We made food parcels to feed the whole village of Qunu. He always reminded me that the ANC hadn’t hired me to feed Qunu but to feed him, but still asked if I could please do this for him.”

Ndoyiya, who is now serving on president Cyril Ramaphosa’s kitchen team, was Mandela’s chef from 1992 until his death in 2013. During this time, she not only cooked for the Mandela family but also for a large number of world leaders, celebrities, academics and business people.

“Tata was always transparent with me. He would say: ‘Please prepare this food to your level best.’ And then when the guests were saying thank you, he would send for me, saying: ‘I don’t take anybody’s credit. She’s the one who’s behind it all. She’s the one who was cooking.’ What a long journey I had with food and with Tata!”

Ndoyiya’s recipe book Ukutya Kwasekhaya, published in 2011, features more than 60 of the meals she cooked for Mandela.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Nicky Willemse
Nicky Willemse works from Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Freelance journalist, copywriter, proofreader, editor, booklover, parent Nicky Willemse has over 43 followers on Twitter.
Advertisting

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world