Miss SA hopeful shrugs off criticism for not being 'Zulu enough'

13 June 2021 - 00:03 By suthentira govender
Fikile Cele, despite her name, is not fluent in Zulu, prompting a social media backlash. She had to explain she had been adopted by an Indian family.
Fikile Cele, despite her name, is not fluent in Zulu, prompting a social media backlash. She had to explain she had been adopted by an Indian family.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

When Durban community radio DJ Fikile Cele posted her Miss SA entry video on social media it didn’t click with the cyber community, who vilified and bullied her for mispronouncing her surname and not being fluent in her mother tongue, Zulu.

With entries for this year’s pageant closing on June 24, Cele, 22, who was raised in Chatsworth by adoptive parents, plucked up the courage to throw her hat in the ring and submitted the mandatory video explaining why she was doing so.

But her video drew hostility for not being “Zulu enough” and because she did not pronounce the click in her surname correctly. Cele’s inability to speak Zulu fluently is a result of having been raised by Indian parents. Her mother, Pamela Thomoya, found her when she was two months old, abandoned in a box outside a local factory after she was born at the RK Khan Hospital.

Thomoya and her husband Reuben, who live in a flat in Chatsworth, adopted Cele as their fourth child. The only thing Cele’s birth mother left in the box with her was the child’s birth certificate bearing her name, which she has retained. The would-be Miss SA has since been forced to spell out her life story on social media platforms to silence her detractors.

“Some people were upset because of how I pronounced my surname. They accused me of not being ‘Zulu enough’ because I did not add the clicks in the right place,” she said this week.

Comments and opinions, good or bad, should not have power over me

“You feel rejected and you feel not good enough or not capable. But these things subside because there comes a time in your life where you realise that enough is enough and you want better for yourself.

“This whole experience made me realise my potential and boosted my confidence.”

But Cele does feel a need to learn about Zulu culture. “I want to spend time with friends trying to learn and develop myself, after all it’s my roots,” she said.

“I do not fully speak or understand it. I believe that it can help me because I have a Zulu name, it’s my heritage.

“Although life turned out different for me, it won’t stop me from wanting to learn Zulu. I want to learn it because we live in a rainbow nation and the ability to hold conversations with different people is something I am passionate about.”

When she became aware of Cele’s experience, incumbent Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida — who has been vocal about bullying and mental health issues in her Mindful Mondays Instagram conversations — told the Sunday Times: “I wish we as people would be kinder to each other and more supportive of someone else’s dreams and ambitions. However, this isn’t always the case on social media and life in general.

“I cannot tell Fikile Cele or any of the other hopefuls entering Miss SA how to feel or act towards a social media backlash. However, I can share useful tips I have received from loved ones and professionals during Mindful Mondays that have helped me,” said Musida.

“Bullying is a reflection of the person doing it, not me — don’t take it personally. Comments and opinions, good or bad, should not have power over me. If it ever gets too much, seek help and don’t suffer in silence.”


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