Cape Town - When Mama Bongi’s employers decided to return to America and she found herself unemployed, she didn’t wallow in self pity - instead, she reinvented herself.
With the help of her new employer, she turned into an entrepreneur, cooking and baking her way to success. Sibonginkosi Msipha, from Bindura, Zimbabwe, has become an overnight sensation after her choc chip cookies had clients queueing for more.
Mama Bongi, as she is known, has always loved cooking and these days she bakes and trains other live-in domestic workers in the art of cooking.
And it’s not just cookies she bakes: she has six years’ experience in kosher cooking under her belt, having worked for two Jewish families since she came to Cape Town in 2008.
“I’ve always loved cooking. Back home, and especially around Christmas time, everyone would ask me when I’m cooking for them. It warms my heart when I see people eating and enjoying my food,” she said.
Recently, Standard Bank bought a batch of Mama Bongi’s cookies for its Women’s Day breakfast. Her employer, Julia Finnis-Bedford, recognised the talent in Mama Bongi and helped her launch her career.
“I can’t lose Julia - they’re like my kids,”said Msipha of the staff at Amazing Spaces in Wynberg, for whom she cooks on a daily basis.
“Mama is in charge of the menu and these days she even has her own website,” said Finnis-Bedford.
Mama Bongi speaks English, Xhosa and Shona, and recently returned from holiday in Zimbabwe, which she said was bittersweet: “Things are so bad there. I couldn’t even cook for my family because there was no electricity.”
She has hopes of bringing her two children to South Africa but said it was proving almost impossible to get passports for them. She sees them once a year.
But life in South Africa is good for Mama Bongi, who has become a recognised face in her local mall where she does her weekly shopping.
“My advice to women is that nothing is impossible. I always tell my family and everyone I meet to go for whatever they want to do. The money I’m making from my cooking lessons and cookies will go towards completing my home in Zimbabwe,” she said.
Finnis-Bedford said she met Mama Bongi when she answered a Facebook post by a domestic worker seeking employment.
“We all just love her. We love her energy. Her face lights up when you tell her how much you enjoy her cooking,” she said.
Amazing Spaces scout locations for film shoots and Mama Bongi’s cookies go everywhere the team goes. They’ve become the gift of choice for clients, who can’t get enough of them.
“I believe in empowering people. Even the cleaner who works here is now in charge of our database. More than the cookies, clients love Mama Bongi’s story,” said Finnis-Bedford.
She added she hoped to one day get President Cyril Ramaphosa to recognise the role entrepreneurs play in building our economy.
“I believe that if you’re self-sufficient, it has a ripple effect. If we each empower just one person, we empower a nation,” she said.
The duo has plans for Mama Bongi to one day have a commercial kitchen. Mama Bongi said when she completed her O-levels in Zimbabwe, she had dreams of becoming a teacher - and though not in a classroom, she’s still living her dream of teaching other people.