For 'Mum Sheila' it's all about hospitality

07 December 2016 | Story by Newsroom
Sheila Diwu, assistant catering manager at Leo Marquard Hall residence, believes that love and care are the staples of any student's diet.
Sheila Diwu, assistant catering manager at Leo Marquard Hall residence, believes that love and care are the staples of any student's diet.

Sheila Diwu, the assistant catering manager at Leo Marquard Hall, believes that food and care go hand-in-hand. And there's plenty of both to go around, says the newly insourced staffer.

Diwu is one of 267 C3 Food Services employees who were insourced on 1 November this year and are now officially part of the UCT community.

Big dreams

Diwu hails from Zwelitsha near King William's Town in the Eastern Cape. After matriculating she worked as a cashier at Shoprite, but it was never part of her long-term plan.

“I knew I must go to school [to study further],” she said.

When she was accepted to study food management at the former Cape Technikon in 1998, she came to the Mother City with high hopes.

“But sometimes life puts you down,” she said.

She couldn't find funding for her studies. Struggling for financial survival, Diwu gave up after a year and returned to the Eastern Cape to attend closer-to-home Port Elizabeth Technikon instead.

“I did a similar course in catering and hospitality services.”

She wrapped up her studies in 2000 and, armed with her national diploma, set out to take on the world. But finding suitable work was difficult. And then a friend at UCT found her a job as a cook with the catering company.

“I'd just finished [studying] and I had these big dreams of earning a lot of money. I'd done management and hospitality and I wanted to use what I'd learnt. But I had to accept this job as a relief cook earning R1 195 a month. It was shocking. My friend said: 'Take it or leave it.' So I thought, let me try.”

It proved to be a stepping stone. From relief cook to cook to supervisor to assistant catering manager, Diwu moved up the ranks at various UCT catering contractors to where she is today, newly insourced from C3 Food Services and part of UCT's support staff.

Part of the family

UCT is part of her family. She was pregnant with her twins, Lonke and Lwethu, while working as a cook at Kopano men's residence. When her waters broke during a shift, she was rushed to Mowbray Maternity Hospital.

Coping with shift work and raising twins is not for the faint-hearted. Her baby daughter experienced some problems at birth and subsequently needed occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Diwu's days off were spent at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital.

Now the twins are 11 and working diligently at school.  (“I preach to them every day,” she jokes. “I tell them, 'You must study; you must study. You must go to UCT!' ”)

Diwu enjoys learning new things too.

“I'm a concerned person. If you tell me something, I will ask why. It's my need to discover things. Tell me the reason so that I can understand things. I want to know.”

When she heard about insourcing last year, she told Leo Marquard warden Daniel Munene that she wanted to use the staff opportunities for further study. He bought her the HR training material to read and she has identified a course which will be available in 2018.

For Diwu insourcing means more than money. Her husband, Patrick, is in transport, which is subject to the ups and downs of the economy. UCT provides stability.

“I think about the future and the benefits that are available.”

Diet of TLC

Does she enjoy cooking herself?

“I love cooking stews. I'm good at that. But actually I wanted to be a dietician.”

And speaking of which, the young men her team caters for love their carbs.

“Give the boys rice, then you won't go wrong! And bread,” she adds. “With the girls, it's green salad, green salad ...”

Perhaps it's her mothering instinct that's made her a winner at the residences. Latecomers to dinner know they can't push the boundaries, but 'Mum Sheila' will always ensure they get something in their stomachs. They need to study after all.

“It's not like I'm spoiling them. I tell them, 'Tomorrow don't come late!' There are rules and regulations and they must follow the rules.”

She also believes in a good helping of TLC when homesickness sets in among the first-years and they need a mother figure.

“Sometimes they just need a hug.”

Being part of the UCT family also means greater access to UCT departments and fellow staffers now that they're not “third party” workers.

Being able to chat to colleagues in different departments means a lot to her.

“Now my card says 'UCT Residence Catering'. We are now called UCT staff and that makes me feel at home!”

Story Helen Swingler. Photo Michael Hammond.

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