In March 2010, Tsogo Sun introduced a programme that would go on to change the lives of many aspiring deaf/hard of hearing chefs in KwaZulu-Natal, including pictured chef Oyena Mzamane (above). The Deaf Chef Programme was developed in partnership with KwaZulu Natal Deaf Association (KZNDA) and the National Institute for the Deaf (NID), and creates employment opportunities that empower persons with disabilities through education, life skills and training in some of the biggest hotel kitchens in KZN.

“The Deaf Chef programme is a special initiative for Tsogo Sun as we see it growing from strength to strength each year.  The organisation wanted to use the programme to authentically embrace persons with disabilities in our areas of business. This has been a great journey for everyone involved with incredible learnings each year that helps us and our partners to re-evaluate and refresh the programme.” says Mike Jackson, Tsogo Sun KwaZulu Natal Operations Director.

Garden Court Umhlanga has spent time sensitising all teams and adapting the standard hotel ways of working to make the environment workable for those with hearing disabilities. The hotel’s kitchen layout was configured, and flashing warning lights were introduced together with relevant signage. Following the first group selection of candidates to enter the kitchen, KZNDA ran a deaf sensitisation workshop and introduced basic and sector-specific sign language to the staff that would be working closely with the deaf trainee chefs.

“It has been wonderful experience working alongside Tsogo Sun, as it was a first of its kind in the province and for the Association. As with any pilot project, there were challenges along the way which have been a learning curve for us all. No one is as Deaf as the man who will not listen – Tsogo Sun listened and saw the value that Deaf chefs could add to the group and provided them with the opportunity to make their dreams come true.” shares Dale Schonewolf, Director of KwaZulu Natal Deaf Association.

“The Deaf Chef programme has grown phenomenally across many of our hotels in the Province. We are proud to be associated with such talented individuals in the business and also congratulate the management teams that have believed and supported the programme to date.

The next key milestone for the programme is for the hotels to work closely with NID on skills improvement to upskill the chefs to allow them the same opportunities to develop further into senior roles in the organisation.” shares Jackson.

For more information on KZNDA and NID, visit their respective websites on and