From domestic worker to international cookbook author: How Fikile Zungu turned her life around

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Fikile Zungu changed her life and she hopes to inspire other women to achieve their dreams.
Fikile Zungu changed her life and she hopes to inspire other women to achieve their dreams.
Fikile Zungu / Supplied

Finding your purpose in life is not always a straightforward path. Sometimes other people recognise your gift before you can see it yourself.

Fikile Zungu (40) tells Drum she had no idea that she had a natural talent for cooking until the people she was working for as a cleaner saw it and pushed her to pursue it.

Fikile worked as a cleaner for many years and she had the opportunity to move to Belgium to work for a former South African ambassador of that country. Her break came when the chef of the house disappeared and there was a vacant position available for a cook.

Little did she know that her life was about to change for the better.

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“I was a cleaner for as long as I can remember. I was encouraged to apply for the cook position by my manager because he saw the talent of cooking in me and I was blind to see that I have that talent.

"I am grateful to my manager that he had encouraged me to apply because if it was not for him, I would not have applied. I never thought of myself as something else besides being a maid.

"I never valued myself that much. I had no dreams or ambitions; I was just living. But things took a turn when I was promoted to being a cook. My life started to make sense and it had a meaning.

"I developed a very strong and burning passion for cooking and I am holding on to that because this passion is the only thing that I need in my life and it makes me who I am today. It completes the puzzle of my life” she says.

"I never thought of myself as something else besides being a maid. I never valued myself that much."
Fikile Zungu

“Today I stand with pride because I am able to tell you about myself and what I stand for. Cooking saved me!”

Fikile tells us that everything started falling into place very rapidly and she soon found herself discussing the idea of writing a cookbook.

“Being an author or a cook was never my dream. I never thought of myself as someone who could make a change or someone who could make it and be successful in life.

“Today I stand with pride because I am able to tell you about myself and what I stand for. Cooking saved me!”
Fikile Zungu

"But things took a turn and I am testimony of how it's possible to turn life around from being a maid to a cookbook author. Being promoted from being a maid to a cook inspired me to be the cook I am today and to be where I am today.

"That promotion showed me that I am someone and I am capable of changing things I don't like about myself. It brought meaning into my life,” she says.

Fikile enjoys being in Belgium with her two children and says that living on that side of the world has helped her to be resilient.

“Being in Belgium has taught me about the other side of life. I have learnt so much about living a life differently from what I knew. I must say that living in Belgium made life easier for me and my kids, but that does not mean I should not get up and go look for a job. I had to stand up for myself and not be dependent on someone  hence I decided to write my own cookbook.”

The decision to self-publish her book was not easy, she says, and there were moments when she wasn’t sure if it would all work out.

She turned to a friend also living in Belgium for help because she was sure her book proposal would be rejected by publishers.

“I still have mixed feelings about the release of my book. It scared me actually, because it was not done by a professional. It was a homemade book by me and Thuso Tshiloane who offered to assist me. He's also not a professional.

"On the other hand, I do recognise my achievement, given where I came from. Thuso and I really did well for people without experience.”

Fikile says she wants people to know that all things work together for the greater good and no one should ever give up on life because of their current circumstances. Her story is proof that these can change for the better when you least expect it.

“I would like people to learn that giving up is not an option – there is always a way to get things done and there are people who are willing to help.

"Do not let rejection end your dreams. Pursue them and fight. Never stop believing  one day you will be where you need to be and doing what you should be doing,” she says.

Fikile still has unfulfilled dreams she's ready to pursue, such as releasing the second edition of her cookbook, having her own cooking show, working with different brands, and having her own restaurant or food kiosk.

“I want it all. I am ready to explore and venture into everything that the food industry has to offer,” she says. 

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