A catastrophic event may change a person’s life forever – and it is how the person bounces back from it that matters the most. Thembile Ngcukumeni (44) from Gugulethu, Cape Town, spent most years of his life leading a healthy lifestyle, until the moment a stroke brought him to his knees – literally.
“I got diagnosed with stroke in 2012. It affected my speech and my right side was disabled. I was physically unable to work. I lost cars as they got repossessed. Lots of people left after I got a stroke, and came up with all sorts of excuses,” he recalls of the aftermath of that tragic moment that shifted his life.
Thembile had participated in marathons and had been a professional climber for years. The medals and photo collage hanging on his wall are evidence of what an active person he was.
“This wall would be painted with medals if I never got the stroke. I can’t even jump now but at least I still have my six-pack cos I do take walks daily. Well, it’s a four-pack now but I still have it!” he jokingly says.
He may be semi-disabled on his left side but Thembile’s soul, drive and determination are not. He currently runs ‘Thembile’s Bread-shop’ at his house. Perhaps, what he has in common with the bread he bakes is that he was also knocked around like dough – but he still rose up and made something out of himself.
“When you have fallen some people want you to stay down but that is not my trait. I’m very fascinated with the journey I’m in. God may have taken away the physical attributes that I possessed but He gave me philosophy in return. I’m not just selling bread; I’m selling inspiration as well.
“You must keep focused, with integrity. If I mistakenly burn someone’s bread then I have to pick up the phone and inform them about the misfortune,” he adds.
Thembile says he is grateful for the first part of his life because it has given him the discipline to cope with his disability.
“I am using the same principles that I got when I was in the Boys Scouts and from the sports I partook in. Sport gives you time to meditate. You must build a character. You can’t be someone else cos everyone is already taken. Also, you need to compliment and give yourself affirmations. I tell myself that I’m good and sexy. It is those affirmations that help me get through my dark days,” he says.
Well, if there’s any figure that Thembile is interested in then it has to be his waistline, because his bread-shop is not only about profit.
“For me it is not about getting figures (money). It’s about creating a lifestyle first. I want to make baking part of my lifestyle. [A wise man] once said, ‘It is not about being well off. It’s about your well-being.’”
Thembile sells his bread for a mere R10, on order basis. He hopes the course he is doing at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) will prepare him for the expansion he’s planning.
“I’ve been speaking to one of my classmates, Xoliswa Singiswa, about a possible collaboration. She’s running a nutrition centre and I think she’s doing a wonderful job, so I am hoping to supply my bread to her business,” he says. Inspiring Tomorrow has featured Xoliswa and her inspiring story can be read here.
You may be asking yourself how he will make his bread suitable for a nutrition centre. Well, customer health tops Thembile’s priority list.
“My bread is made of flour that comes straight from maize . My stroke was as a result of high cholesterol [along with other factors], so people’s health is of great concern to me. The bread that people buy from the shops is full of unhealthy genetic-modifications because they prioritise profit and their flour is commercialised [highly refined].” He adds that he hopes to follow Lufefe’s idea of baking his bread with spinach, and introduce his own vegetables in his baking.
As if trying to express the love he has for the environment, Thembile decided to focus where the grass is green. “It was so much easy to just roll over and be discouraged by everything, but I chose not to. Instead, I’m using my story to motivate other people through talks at events. I believe my story can be of service to others. Adversities build opportunities because I’m now able to motivate other people through my experiences.”
Talking about experiences, Thembile suffered losing his mother and sister in the same year. He currently lives with his wife and three children. “I almost did not have children because I was too busy travelling – I’ve worked in a camp in America and I’ve been just all over the country.”
Today, his family is central to his life, but he does not take domestic troubles to work: “I always have a larger loaf of bread that I keep for my family. What makes my bread different is I bake with love. You don’t carry your domestic baggage to the kitchen cos you’ll burn your baking,” he says as he gets up to check if his baking is ready for consumption yet.
When his days are dark because of Eskom’s load-shedding, his fire oven comes to his rescue.
“I am saving energy on this one right here. Most people in my community are getting rid of their wooden shacks as they are building flats, so I use their disposed planks for making fire.”
Eskom even came to take pictures one time, and his story has been featured by Reuters news agency, City Vision and The Big Issue magazines.
Thembile says he’d like to use his house to host events where he will exercise his second passion: motivational speaking. He’s planning to invite his bread-shop stakeholders to discuss a way forward.
“Every man has to reinvent himself after disaster. You have a purpose in life that you need to fulfil. You can overcome your personal constraints depending on how you respond to them,” he concludes.