Miss South Africa 1996 Peggy-Sue Khumalo started her life cleaning houses before training to be a beauty queen, and finally ending up as an investment banker in Johannesburg.
How so? For this, we will need to rewind to her past.
Born to a single mother in the northern region of KwaZulu-Natal, Khumalo grew up on the farm where her mother toiled as a domestic worker. Her greatest desire was to be educated and be able to turn around her fortune one day.
While she was still a young child, her mother moved to Johannesburg leaving her in the care of her grandmother, and in search of greener pastures to finance her only child’s schooling.
“It was not a private school education but it was a good education,” says Khumalo today.
After primary school, she was sent to boarding school, where for the first time she experienced running water, electricity, tar roads and the city life. But the family was still poor. After high school, Khumalo joined her mother in Johannesburg, to help clean houses with her.
“I hated every moment of that and I think I was reminded every day that life can’t repeat itself. And every day my mum kept telling me ‘don’t mess this up, take it as an opportunity, because if you mess this up, where do you think we are going to live’?”
After two years of this drudgery, Khumalo headed to town to find a ‘proper’ job. She started out washing hair at a salon. Atleast that provided an entry point to other more glamorous endeavors. She soon found herself doing small modeling jobs and finally, taking part in – and winning – local beauty contests.
“At that moment I thought to myself ‘life can’t get any worse, it can only get better’.” Not long after, she enrolled for the Miss South Africa pageant.
“I didn’t think I had a chance, I met the most amazing young ladies, some well-known, I thought there is no way nobody knows who I am,” says Khumalo.
She was wrong. She made it to the finals and won Miss South Africa that year.
It was a joyous, tearful moment.
“I didn’t even know how to present myself, I just cried and ran on to the stage.” The very next day, she received a call that changed her life.
“The following morning, Doreen Morris [former owner of Miss SA] said to me, ‘Mr Mandela has called and would like to see you for tea at his house’. I thought no way!” President Mandela opened doors she didn’t know existed.
“I got a call from Zelda [his assistant] saying ‘Tata would like to see you’. It was a Sunday, when I got there, he said to me, ‘Sue, we are waiting for our guest’. I thought Tata was trying to marry me off. And in walked Stephen Koseff, the Chief Executive Officer of Investec.”
Mandela persuaded Koseff to send Khumalo to the UK for higher studies., which he did. On completing her studies in finance abroad, Khumalo started her career with Investec as a credit analyst. Today, she sits on the executive board for South African businesses and manages some of the top names in corporate South Africa. From cleaning houses to donning tiaras to running the boardroom, Khumalo couldn’t have asked for more.