Athinga Ramabulana, a 4th-year UKZN medical student, is also proficient in the arts, kitchen and business
Athinga Ramabulana, a 4th-year UKZN medical student, is also proficient in the arts, kitchen and business

Medical student cooking up a storm

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Oct 17, 2021

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MAKING it through the day as a full-time medical student is enough to run most people ragged, but not for Athingahangwani Ramabulana, who loves having her plate full.

Athinga Ramabulana, a 4th-year UKZN medical student, is also proficient in the arts, kitchen and business

Multitasking is the way of life for Ramabulana, a 4th-year student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson Mandela School of Medicine.

Athinga Ramabulana wears many hats. This 4th-year UKZN medical student, is also proficient in the arts, kitchen and business

Besides being accomplished enough to write and recite poetry and play the guitar on some well-known local stages as a performing artist, the 21-year-old Ramabulana has already evolved into a successful businesswoman.

Athinga Ramabulana, a 4th-year UKZN medical student, is also proficient in the arts, kitchen and business

She owns Athinga’s Corner, the catering company which supplies the student population on UKZN’s campuses with daily hot and fresh meals, and, if requested, deliveries also reach dormitories.

She presently employs two full-time and five casual employees, and her meals are prepared on a food trailer she bought through assistance from a financial aid programme, InQubate, run by UKZN to support students with entrepreneurial nous.

Ramabulana’s love for cooking was the catalyst for her business venture.

Having relocated from her home in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, to Durban and living at the medical school residence in uMbilo, during her first year of study, she began cooking for about half-a-dozen students.

That’s when she noticed a gap in the market and that many students failed in the kitchen.

“Seeing students eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, that is not healthy. It doesn't make for healthy living and productive people.

“When I started, it was because I loved cooking and enjoyed it when others enjoyed my cooking.”

The multi-talented Athinga Ramabulana, a 4th-year UKZN medical student, is also an accomplished arts performer

Ramabulana only took on as many orders she could handle, straight after lectures, in the afternoons.

But then she looked at her operation with an evolved perspective, she decided to work harder and achieve her present position.

Her National Student Financial Aid Scheme bursary surpluses funded her cooking initiative initially, which was largely for the purchase of ingredients.

To add new dimensions to her business, Ramabulana applied for funding in April 2020.

She eventually landed R80 000 from UKZN’s InQubate programme earlier this year, and she now rents space in Manor Gardens, near the Howard College campus, where her trailer is parked.

The funding has helped her purchase stock, branding and marketing

Her full-time employees are a cook and a driver, while the five students work on weekends.

Some of the offerings from Athinga’s Corner

Her daily on the go offerings include pasta, chicken wings, wors rolls, doughnuts, fries. She also prepares traditional meals that need a few hours to cook and is served at lunch and dinner time. Customers need to order in advance to land those servings.

More offerings from Athinga’s Corner

Ramabulana said her days were “not like a linear graph”, and no two days were the same.

“I would be lying If I said I had it all together.”

She said being a student, businesswoman and an artist was a juggling act.

“There were days when I had to perform, study, and prepare for a test the next day, But when you do the things you love, the days that are strenuous become worth it.

Managing her business is her key role and she delegates the other duties. She is appreciative of those in her “inner circle” who also provide emotional support.

Given her schedule, Ramabulana has left the cooking duties to the hired cook these days.

“Our cook is amazing. I’m even learning from her. I do help out sometimes, and I keep ‘Athinga’s’ touch going with the recipes and sauces that I create.”

From the time Ramabulana got to medical school, she has been caught up with things over and above her studies like becoming their “class rep”, founding her medical school’s choir, serving on her church’s leadership committee and co-founding an organisation that encouraged formerly disadvantaged students involvement in the health sector.

On the art side, she has performed at Durban’s renowned Playhouse Theatre and in Thohoyandou.

She has also shared a stage with local literary giants like Gcina Mhlophe as a prelude poet at the Poetry Africa International Festival in 2018.

“Multitasking is second nature for me. Doing straightforward would be boring.”

As a result, people constantly quiz her about her career choice and her “weird” ability to do so many things.

“I believe God made this way for a beautiful purpose.”

Ramabulana said she appreciated God's hand over her life even more because she grew up in a “hostile” home environment where domestic violence and protection orders were commonplace.

Her mother is closely involved in Ramabulana’s life and recently attended the launch of the latest chapter in her business.

Ramabulana’s mother did not approve when she started out in business, fearing that it would affect her studies.

“My mother is excited and proud. I see it in all the ways she supports me.”

While Ramabulana is settled that practising medicine was her calling, she plans to grow her business further in future.


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