Successful individual, wife, mother, chef, entrepreneur, TV personality and author, Sibahle Mtongana somehow manages to juggle it all.
How do you manage all these roles and the responsibilities?
I believe I am graced by it. I also create solid structures and a great team around me that assist me in my business as well as at home. I do take a lot of small breaks throughout the year to help me recharge – I am a firm believer of overall wellbeing.
Choosing what I eat wisely is very important for me, so I have enough energy throughout my day. I also exercise often which can sometimes be a simple walk, and I am fully active in my faith and spiritual life which helps my mental health and overall wellbeing.
As a TV personality, you connect with people, and many feel they know you. Tell us a bit about your childhood, and how it helped shape you into the fierce female you are today.
I grew up being a very inquisitive child and even though it was taboo to ask a lot back then, my parents and family allowed me the space to ask questions. I come from a conservative and strong Christian foundation and both my parents played a crucial role in my upbringing. My mother pushed us to do well academically with Tata (my father) as our spiritual mentor.
The community I come from was filled with high achievers – my neighbourhood has teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers and more and the expectation for anyone who comes from our area is that you will be successful. Our parents were hard working and were able to make it in life, despite life’s circumstance at the time. I really do admire the generation that birthed us as they were tenacious. They had big dreams for their children, and we are benefactors of that hard labour and work.
Is this the life you envisioned for yourself growing up?
Yes, to some extent. I have always known that I would be a person of great influence although I never knew that food would be the vehicle for that influence. Growing up, Nelson Mandela was my hero and like many kids in the township, I aspired to be like him.
I honestly thought I would be a lawyer as that was the prime job to be at the time! I had the best childhood and grew up in a loving family where education and a relationship with God were given to us as keys to unlocking our future opportunities and potential. I was loved fiercely my parents but not just them, but also by my siblings, extended family and the community we lived in, and I was considered a respectful child. My mother in particular was very intelligent and hardworking, I took a lot of who I am in business from her, which in itself is such a great honour.
What has been the greatest highlight of your journey?
The highlight of my career was the time I caught the attention of Harvard Business school. They studied my life and career so I could become a Harvard Case Study. That was such a ‘God checkmate move’ in my life, and I’m yet to see what more could ever top that.
What would surprise many people about you?
My faith is key foundation, and I am fierce prayer warrior. Those who know what this mean will understand.
Where does your passion for food come from?
It started at home and that is where it was nurtured and grew. I’m forever thankful that my parents allowed me to choose a career in food as I have a bachelor’s degree in Food and Consumer Sciences with majors in Food Science and Nutrition.
I think it’s the innovation and creation that really excites me. My love for hospitality allows me to combine my love for food and cooking with my other passions, such as people and serving. I honestly think my work is a friend of my ministry as it’s the joy of making others feel good or teaching them what really fulfils me beyond just having an exceptional plate of food.
You are a successful chef. What inspired you to diversify and launch a kitchen range?
It’s always been in the pipeline, so it felt so good when we finally launched that leg of the business.
What inspires and drives you to continue growing and pushing the boundaries?
I like being the best and enjoy following my dreams and aspirations, no matter what the challenges are. I am extremely ambitious and believe in myself and capabilities. That helps me a lot when I have ideas that others don’t believe in, or think are impossible.
If I have prayed about something and I feel peace about it, I will do it despite naysayers or other opinions. I guess that is the true epitome of being an entrepreneur!
What do you consider the key three characteristics needed to become a game-changer?
Tenaciousness, consistency and a willingness to change and to do the uncomfortable things.
What advice would you give to parents to get kids more involved in the kitchen?
Teach them young, involve them in the whole home value chain of preparing meals. Let them help you with shopping, preparing the dishes you cook and give them safe tasks to do. Let them observe and ask as many question as they have, explaining the benefits of eating good food.
How should parents manage picky eaters?
What you allow your kids to eat from infancy matters a lot. For instance, start them with veg purées instead of fruit purées. What you eat matters too as children often take a leaf out of their parents book and learn a lot of things through observation. So, if you want them to eat veggies, then it’s only fair that the parents eat veggies too.
They do learn and pick up bad habits from school so it’s important to let them deal with those and continue encouraging good eating habits.
I find that eating together at the table is pivotal as they see others enjoy what they don’t enjoy and over time they may be open to it. Continue introducing them to foods that they think they don’t like and ensure you enjoy them in their presence. I don’t think forcing them to eat helps as it creates childhood food traumas. Be patient but consistent in your influence.
What is a typical day in the Mtongana home?
I wake up at 4am for prayers. Porridge is made at 5:20am . Kids wake up at 5:50 am. They bath and dress for school. And 6:30am they eat their breakfast. At 6:50am we say a small prayer and by 7:05 they are off to school.
I then go to the office and join the restaurant team in the afternoon for preps. I usually return home for dinner with the kids and then head back to the restaurant.
What are the key values you want to pass on to your children?
Love for God and for people. Appreciation of the small and the big things. Doing what they love and are passionate about. Understanding business and leadership from a young age.
What is the most challenging aspect of motherhood, and how do you overcome it?
Time is sometimes a limiting factor, so my team and I need to always be conscious and intentional about making time for our children. For instance, weekends are our family time, so we do an activity together every Saturday morning and we spend most of our Sundays at Siba – The Restaurant for a yummy Sunday lunch. They love it and that has now become our family ritual.
What is the most surprising aspect of motherhood?
There are times when I feel like I need a holiday and a break from the kids. So, I take one, but once you are on holiday you miss them so much that you look forward to going back and being with them again.
However, even when I feel they are too much to handle, there is never a feeling of regret but rather a joy that just sometimes makes you laugh at yourself.
How do you recharge?
I take small weekend breakaways with my husband. I also read, listing to audio books and podcasts. I like to run too. I do take power naps when I feel exhausted, even if it’s during the day.
What does the future hold for you?
Focusing on expanding The Siba Co and realising our short and long term goals.