The honour of cooking for Madiba

By Drum Digital
15 December 2010

THEY say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – and never is the statement more fitting than when it comes to the world’s most beloved statesman, Nelson Mandela, and the woman who has been feeding him for almost 20 years.

Nelson Mandela fell for Xolile Ndoyiya the moment she told him she could make “his” kind of food and the relationship has flourished, built on a solid base of succulent roast chicken, creamy amasi and the soft porridge Madiba loves so much.

She’s sacrificed a lot to cater to the tastes of our former president and his family and it hasn’t always been easy for Sis Xoli, as everyone calls her. She has missed crucial moments in her children’s lives and upset her late husband who accused her of putting work before family. But her sacrifice wasn’t lost on Madiba, who rewarded her for her loyalty and love and made sure her family was well taken care of.

Now, as Madiba enjoys his retirement and things are easing up in his house, Xoli is finding more time for other things – such as releasing Ukutya Kwasekhaya (Food from Home), the official cookbook featuring a collection of Mandela’s favourite recipes and anecdotes from her time in his home.

Larger than life with an infectious laugh that bubbles up from deep within her, it’s not difficult to understand how Sis Xoli charmed her way into the hearts of the entire Mandela family.

“I’ve learnt so much while working for uTata,” she says, smiling warmly. “I’ve learned about love and respect. No one in the house makes you feel like a worker – you’re part of the family. His children make sure you feel comfortable and always tell you they appreciate that you’re taking care of uTata.”

Xoli is responsible for all his meals and he’s reluctant to eat as much as a crumb if she hasn’t prepared it. “For him to eat, I need to be there to show the person how to prepare the meals and for him to at least see me in the kitchen.”

After working for Mandela for so many years, she knows exactly what pleases him. “If I don’t make traditional food for a whole week I know that I will be called to his study and he will ask, ‘Are you trying to ignore me, Xoli?’”

And so a week does not go by without him eating umphokoqo (soft pap with amasi).

“uTata insists on umphokoqo every single day! You know how you want something different on the weekend? Not uTata. He insists on it even when there’s other food on the table and he will wait for you to cook it. “I would ask him, ‘Hawu Tata, you’ve been eating umphokoqo yesterday, today and tomorrow. Aren’t you tired of it?’ And you know what uTata says? ‘I will eat it every day until I feel I have honoured my mother enough.’ ”

Read the full article in DRUM of 23 December 2010

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