“I didn’t ask for it; I didn’t pray for it; but when I opened my eyes, it was there.” – Fikile Cele
This saying coined by 22-year-old Fikile Cele is more than a metaphor, it’s deeply personal; and, in many ways, describes how she managed to land on both feet despite a bleak beginning and years of identity crisis and being picked on by imperious peers.
Today Fikile – whose name means “s/he has arrived” in Zulu – is stepping into the spotlight with no reservations, no apologies, just black girl magic. Her presence is so strong she seems to have been sprinkled with pixie dust. So, who is Fikile Cele? She is a radio personality for Sunrise FM, a model and a contestant vying for Miss South Africa.
Fikile, who lives in Durban, South Africa, exudes confidence stemming from a deep appreciation of her journey from a child who struggled to make sense of her existence to a woman who is proud to be who she is today. Her journey is inspiring a generation of young people to embrace who they are and to never let anyone confine them to a box – which is of particularly significance to her story.
Fikile was abandoned as a baby in a box at a factory and adopted by an Indian woman who found her when she was just two months.
“I remember the day I was told that I was adopted so clearly,” Fikile told The Weight She Carries. “In my bedroom there was a bunkbed; I used to sleep on the bottom and my brother slept on the top. My mom came into the room – I’m not sure how old I was at that time – but I remember she came to the bed and she asked me to come near her and we just snuggled.”
Her mother proceeded to tell her about her birth mother. The only semblance of identity Fikile had to her Zulu heritage was her name, which was listed on the birth certificate her birth mother left inside the box Fikile was found in.
Fikile’s birth mother was a teen mom who had run away from home in fear of her family. After abandoning her baby, she sought her out and was granted visitation rights. Unfortunately, she died when Fikile was just five years old.
“I have no recollective memory of her,” Fikile said. “I don’t remember what she looked like or sounded like – I don’t have any pictures of her.”
What she does remember is attending her mother’s funeral and seeing her coffin descend into the ground with a green mat draped over it. This was a defining moment in her life. As her mother’s coffin was lowered, Fikile’s adoptive mom stood beside her, and the two sang the song “You will always be a child in my eyes” by Ray Boltz.
“That’s the song that haunted me for years,” Fikile said. “Eventually I came to the understanding that it is what it is.”
As a child, Fikile experienced intense bullying and other personal struggles that had a huge impact on her self-esteem.
“I’ve come across lots of people who’ve had different opinions of who I am or who I should be,” she said. “In the home that I grew up in, we didn’t speak isiZulu. So I didn’t have anyone around me speaking my language.”
Living in a predominately Indian community and going to an Indian school was tough to deal with. Constantly bombarded with opinions of who she should be, Fikile lashed out in school and at home.
“I resented my family for things they never did. I lashed out in anger for the demons I didn’t face,” she said. “So growing up was tough. Not because I wasn’t being loved, everything was there. I was just building this wall and not receiving anything.”
“There was a time when I told my mom that she shouldn’t have picked me; she should have left me to die in the box.”Fikile Cele
The wall was founded on her fear of rejection. She distanced herself from her adoptive family and emotionally detached from them. Her fear also affected other relationships
“I’d rather get rid of you before you get rid of me,” she said. I’ve always been that way in relationships, but I accept myself now and I am comfortable with who I am.”
Fikile recently entered the Miss South Africa 2021 pageant hoping to inspire many others who have struggled with being perceived as different.
“I want to advocate for the unseen, unheard, the unwanted women and children just like me who feel that they are abandoned,” she said. “It’s not about who you are or your situation, you are not your situation.”
Following her entrance video for the pageant, Fikile faced criticism over the way she pronounced her surname.
“I was cyber bullied a lot with regard to the way I pronounce my surname. It is supposed to be pronounced a certain way and I was told that I was not Zulu enough,” she said.
Fikile posted a follow-up video explaining why she speaks the way she does and received a flood of messages from people who felt inspired by her story.
“I know what it feels like to be alone because I caused myself to be alone, and I know what it’s like to have people around you but you’re not able to communicate with them. I had to except myself and doing that was a long, hard road.”Fikile Cele
People in the public eye often reveal very little about their personal challenges. Fikile wants to be different and connect with people who have struggled under the weight of their own stories.
“This is who I am,” she said. “I wish to change nothing about me. I want to reach for greater heights and become the best version of myself, but I don’t want to change my story because it has made me who I am and brought me to such a platform.”
The life she lives today is one she never imagined for herself. Being a radio personality and a model were not even within her realm of possibilities.
“Opening my eyes to my own truth has opened doors for me unknowingly,” she said. “I’m so grateful to God for everything.” Fikile Cele is a name you’ll want to remember because as her name confirms, she has arrived.
Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.