Nomvula Sikhakhane

Blackwell & Ruth2017

The Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Nelson Mandela Foundation
Johannesburg, South Africa

Nomvula Sikhakhane was born in Katlehong, South Africa. From the age of six, Sikhakhane was abused by her stepfather. Later, while living with her grandmother, Sikhakhane met Sahm Venter and Claude Colart, who became her unofficial guardians. A graduate of the HTA School of Culinary Art, Sikhakhane now works as a chef.

Nomvula Sikhakhane was interviewed about her life, career and hope for the future for 200 WOMEN, a book and exhibition project founded on the principle of gender equality comprising original interviews and accompanying photographic portraits. This landmark project is the realisation of an epic global journey to find two hundred women with diverse backgrounds, and to ask them what really matters to them.

Q. What really matters to you?
I believe people deserve to be loved.
And I feel that mothers should always put their daughters first – they are the most precious things in life. Mothers should take care of their daughters and look after them. If a daughter says something is wrong, then something is wrong – a mother should believe her.
After my mother found out about all the horrible things that my stepdad was doing – and she had the proof – she still decided to go with the guy. It broke me for a long time. I used to be very bitter, angry and grumpy. I was angry at the world and always used to question, ‘Why does life have to be this way?’
But as I grew older and went on to high school I told myself: ‘I’m not going to let what happened to me make me a victim. I’m going to be strong and overcome it.’ But it wasn’t easy. I was angry and when people spoke about my stepdad’s abuse I’d break down and cry. Eventually I said, ‘I have to be strong and I have to keep going – I’m not going to be a victim of what happened to me. I’d rather have a bright future and be something big.’ Even though what happened is not something that I can erase, I can change the way it makes me feel and be a happy person. Because there’s nothing that beats happiness. There’s no point in staying mad and questioning something you cannot change. But you can turn the negative into a positive. And, so far, I think I’ve done that; I’ve accepted what I can’t change and made something positive out of it. I’ve learned to be a happy person and to let go.
Even though I was still a bit angry when I went to live with my grandmother, as life went on I realised that there was a lot that I should be grateful for. I realised that what was happening was probably a blessing, that I should accept that blessing and embrace it. There are great things in my life: not everyone gets a chance like I did. Not everyone has people like Sahm and Claude who are willing to take them on, do things for them and put them through school. Most of the time, if someone does something like that, they want something in return. But Sahm and Claude don’t.

Q. What brings you happiness?
The happiest time of my life was when my granny told Sahm what was going on – she worked with my grandmother. Sahm started buying me things, which is how she came into my life. I’d never actually received so many nice things or had someone doing nice things for me. Sahm taught me how to read and so much else. It was just so overwhelming, but in a nice way. To me, Sahm and Claude are a mother and a father.
Today, my happiest moments are when I walk into a kitchen and start work. My granny used to cook where she worked and, when I didn’t go to school because of my stepfather’s trial, I’d go to work with her and watch her cook; her being busy – moving around the kitchen – touched me, and I told myself, ‘This is what I want to do when I’m done with school.’
Then, when I was in Grade 7, my aunt and I were walking around Randburg – we were on the way to apply for college for my cousin – and saw HTA, the school where I later studied culinary arts. I told my aunt, ‘This is the school I want to go to. When I’m done with everything, this is where I want to be.’
At first, when people asked me what I wanted to do, I had doubts. But, eventually, I realised that if you’re going to do something that doesn’t make you happy, then there’s no point in doing it. I felt that being a chef would make me happy, so, when people asked me what I was going to do, I started answering, ‘I want to be a chef. Because cooking makes me happy.’
When I’m in the kitchen I feel happy. And when you serve someone food and you see them smiling, it says something to your heart. You see that you’re bringing change to someone’s life because they’re smiling and they’re happy about a meal.

Q. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
It makes me sad that, after everything that happened to me, my mother still got the man that hurt me out of jail. That still breaks my heart, to the point that I feel I should never forgive her for it. I’m her daughter, at the end of the day, and most mothers would do anything in order for their daughters to not have to go through something like that. But it’s like my mother didn’t care.
Besides that, however, there’s nothing I feel that I should complain about; I have a complete life and I have everything I need – life is beautiful.

Q. What would you change if you could?
I would change situations in which children go to bed hungry. I believe that no child should go to bed with a hungry stomach.

Q. Which single word do you most identify with?
Love. I picked love because of Sahm. She has given me so much love – something that my mother failed to do. Sahm showed me that you don’t have to be a mother to someone to give them love. Skin doesn’t mean anything – it’s what’s in the heart that really matters. At one point I was angry that I didn’t get love from my mother, but when Sahm came into my life she filled that void. I decided that my mother could go on with her life and I would go on with mine: because I have someone who’s playing that role. And I have Claude playing the role of a father, and the love of my grandmother as well – I think love goes a long way.


  • Title: Nomvula Sikhakhane
  • Creator: Blackwell & Ruth
  • Date Created: 2017
  • Location Created: Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Original Source: 200 Women
  • Rights: Blackwell and Ruth Limited
  • Photographer: Image copyright (c) Kieran. E. Scott

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