A Small Town Girl with Big Boss Dreams

By Kelly Vinett

When Lipuma Thabede discovered the hospitality service as a teen, she booked herself a life-long reservation.

Lipuma, now 21, is a first-year student at the International Hotel School in Westville, just a short drive away from Cato Manor which is a working-class township in Durban. Her older siblings –too many to count, she says– have all moved out. The only child left, Lipuma lives with her retired parents in their immaculately clean, bubblegum-pink home. This place is all she knows, but she’s more than ready to leave South African suburbia behind.

Drawing of Lipuma Thabede by Kelly Vinett

Usually sweet and soft-spoken, Lipuma transforms when she speaks about the hotel industry. Just think of the opportunities for travel, she says. She leans in a few inches, puts her elbows on the table, and lists all of the cities she hopes to explore.

“I could travel the world and get out of South Africa, I could earn real money, I could meet new people.”

Then she reveals, “I’ve never been out of Durban or South Africa before.”

Living at home can feel constricting for someone with such wanderlust.

“It gets kind of boring and lonely. When something goes wrong, your parents always blame you.”

Lipuma’s escape route is coming, and soon. On the brink of leaving the comfort of family, and girlhood, she’s ready to make her own rules.


Her degree is going to force her to leave the only territory she’s ever known. “The hospitality industry is not that big [in South Africa] so there’s no room for growth. In the U.S and in Europe there are more opportunities.”

Maybe her first destination will be to work on cruise ship.

“It’s like a mall that’s on water.”

Or perhaps, she’ll work in a hotel in Paris—five star.

This small town girl is hungry for the spotlight. She wants to be her own boss, an entrepreneur.

“Kitchens, they’re okay but they’re not what I want to do,” she proclaims, “I want to be an owner. I don’t want to be behind the scenes.”

Lipuma has a practical exam next week where she’ll be mixing and serving cocktails to hotel customers.

“I’m excited because it’s a totally different experience. I’ve never done it before. Never.” Her voice commands the space, she’s going to run the room.  


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