MEET THE FARMERS

Bheki Mhlane

A sugar farmer’s bitter sweet victory.

It would take a family tragedy to force Bheki Mhlane back to the family sugarcane farm near Umzinto in KwaZulu Natal. Today this second-generation farmer continues his father’s life’s work, while benefitting from the farming networks his father built up over the years. Producing his own sugarcane sticks, and modernizing his father’s operation, Bheki aims to have 100ha under production soon. His only regret? That he didn’t start farming sooner!

Sinelizwe Fakade

Sinelizwe Fakade is smart, not because of his master’s degree in agriculture, but rather because of how he gets things done. Working for Grain SA in the Eastern Cape, he grew the number of farmers he was helping from just a few hundred to 3 500 who were planting 3000ha of maize – in just three years! But Sinelizwe Fakade wanted to be the one doing the farming. So he went to visit his old friend and mentor, the legendary farmer Rob Farrington, who agreed to help. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Today, with the help of his brother, mother and tough Afrikaner farm manager, Sinelizwe plants almost 1 000ha of crops. Don’t miss Sinelizwe extraordinary story of focus and endurance on Mzansi Wethu Channel 163 on DSTV.

Tshilidzi Matshidzula

Not only is Tshilidzi Matshidzula one of the best dairy farmers at the country, he also made history when he won the coveted Eastern Cape Young Farmer of the Year award back in 2016, the first black farmer to ever do so. It was the first of many historic firsts, and today, at just 31, this youngster that goes by the name of Chilli, is already one of South Africa’s black farming legends. But as with most things worth having, success didn’t come easy. It took Chilli years of hard working, tough negotiations and a little luck to transform a failed land-reform project into a viable, world-class dairy that today milks an impressive 1000 cows. With the help of his friend, mentor and fellow shareholder in the business, the commercial dairy farmer Walter Biggs, Chilli then went and double his farming output with another operation

at Stutterheim, that also can milk 1000 cattle!

Theo van Rooyen

Growing up in Williston in the Northern Cape, all Theo van Rooyen wanted to be when he grew up was a sheep farmer. Then his father got a job on a fruit farm in the Koue Bokkeveld close to Ceres in the Western Cape, and his life changed forever. The spectacular beauty of the fruit farms of the famed Witzenberg valley struck a deep cord with young Theo, but he also knew that the politics of the time prevented him from ever owning one of these farms. So instead, he started manufacturing and supplying farmers with wooden bins with which to harvest fruit. It was a good move. With his ear to the ground, Theo finally heard of a farm for sale. There was only one small problem – he didn’t have the money. So he approached one of his commercial farmer clients to whom he had sold bins, and they struck a deal that would change the face of South African agriculture. In exchange for access to finance, Theo’s partner now owned 48% of the operation, while Theo remained with the controlling 51% share. After all these years he finally was a farmer! And with the expertise, mentorship and export contacts his commercial farmer partner brought, Theo has become a word-class export fruit farmer. Not bad for a boytjie from Williston!

Ntsiki Biyela

She grew up herding cattle and milking cows in a remote rural village in the Ugu district of KwaZulu-Natal. Never in her wildest dreams could Ntsiki Biyela ever have imagined that she would one day make history by becoming South Africa’s first black female winemaker. Instead she took a job as a domestic worker after matric and thought that was how her life would be. But fate had other plans, and when a former teacher let her know about a scholarship to study winemaking, she jumped at the chance. Upon arriving at Stellenbosch, she remembers marveling at the huge mountains, and the many tiny trees she would later discover were actually vineyards! But that was then, and today, Ntsiki is an internationally acclaimed winemaker producing 14 000 bottles of wine a year of which 80% is exported. Don’t tell this lady anything can’t be done! Don’t miss Ntsiki’s inspiring story of perseverance and triumph on Mzansi Wethu, channel 163 on DSTV. 

Obakeng Mfikwe

Great doctor, better farmer! It would take a family tragedy to launch this young doctor’s impressive farming career. Following his elder brother Rotham’s tragic passing in a car accident, Obakeng found himself increasingly having to take off time from his medical practice in Fourways in Johannesburg to help his ageing dad with the family’s communal cattle farming at Beestekraal, close to Jericho in North West. And the more he farmed, the more he found himself enjoying it. When he finally took the plunge and bought his first few cows, he knew he was well and truly hooked. So he closed his medical practice and started farming full-time, and within just a few years, achieved some great successes. His Simmentaler and Simbra cattle studs have already won several awards, and he also plants more than a 1000 ha of maize, sunflower and fodder crops on several farms in the North West and Magaliesberg

Kleinjan Gasekoma

It’s one of the most prestigious awards in farming, won by some of the best cattle farmers this country has ever seen, and in 2016 history was made when Klein Gasekoma from Reivilo in the North West province became the first black farmer to win the coveted award of commercial cattle farmer of the year. “A true winner in every respect,” was how the judges described him at the time. A far cry from the days when he worked at the railways and dreamed of one day owning a farm of his own. When Kleinjan eventually did get the chance to go farming, he jumped at it, even if it was with 25 other beneficiaries on a state farm. When that didn’t work out too well, he simply refused to give up, knocking on every door he could find. After many struggles and disappointments, he eventually did manage to secure a state farm, and when he met his mentor and now close friend, Afrikaner farmer Cois Harman, his path to success was guaranteed. Today Kleinjan is deeply grateful to be able to manage his Braunvieh stud with his eldest son Clement, ensuring that the next generation is ready to take over this fairytale of farming excellence. 

Kobela Mokgohloa

Flying over a plot of land that had been in the family for three generations was all it took for pilot Kobela Mokgohloa to hang up his pilot’s wings. And so it also happened that Kobela started farming hydroponic cucumbers intensively on the family plot in Winterveldt, north of Pretoria. Not bad for a township boy who grew up in Shoshanguve and taught himself farming by reading books from his local library. Today this young farmer farms a staggering 65 greenhouses, and as one of the few black cucumber producers in the country, he faces the same struggles as any commercial farmer. Among these challenges is the accessing of water rights that will allow him to expand his business. And when the stress gets too much, there are always his beautiful French Limousin cattle he can spend time with to unwind! Don’t miss Kobela’s story of impressive technical success on 5 November at 18:30on Mzansi Wethu (Channel 163 on DSTV).

Jimmy and Lerato Botha

Fast and intensive – that’s what it’s like to grow herbs in tunnels. Almost every day you’re harvesting, selling but also planting, just to keep ahead of your customer’s demand for daily fresh herbs. To keep all the moving parts of such a fast-paced business running smoothly, one needs a well-oiled team, and they don’t come much better that Jimmy Botha and his daughter Lerato. This dynamic father-and-daughter team are more than just successful business partners, they’re also good friends.

They enjoy each other’s company and love hiking together in the Magaliesberg right on their farm’s doorstep. And when they look back on their success, it’s always with a great sense of gratitude to that handful of greengrocers in Jozi, who cared enough to buy their herbs when no-one else wanted to.

Duncan Moalosi Serapelwane

A trip halfway across the globe and the teachings of two renowned entrepreneurs set Duncan Moalosi Serapelwane on a path back to farming – one he vowed as a child he’d never walk. Today this former teacher is a Bonsmara stud farmer and has found meaning in making a name for himself as an elite breeder of these iconic red South African cattle.

Cocky Mokoka

South Africans love the Brazilians’ soccer brilliance. And, as it turns out, we love their farming, too! When Cocky Mokoka read about how Brazilian farmers had transformed their businesses by no longer ploughing or working their soil, he knew what he had to do.

Today, Mother Nature is the best farmworker Cocky has. In exchange for having stopped to fight her with chemicals and poison, Mother Nature has rewarded Cocky with soil that is becoming ever more fertile. This has allowed Cocky to cut costs and increase his profits across his farm – from his maize and soya crops to his cattle.

Experience this shepherd of the soil’s amazing journey with Mother Nature on 8 October on Mzansi Wethu, channel 163 on DStv.

Palesa Moahlodi

You don’t have to start big to end up super successful. Ask Palesa Moahlodi, an impressive gogo what made do with what she had when she started farming full-time in 2010 with broiler chickens and vegetables on her and her husband’s small plot in Bloemfontein. From there she never looked back, and today Palesa and her husband, Challa, an agriculturalist and soil scientist, own a 1300ha sweetveld farm outside Boshof in the Free State. Here in the heart of South Africa’s cattle country they manage a 120 Brangus and Bonsmara herd so expertly, their efforts have caught the eye of top South African cattle producer the Sernick Group. But het efforts don’t stop there – today Palesa has also added a 75-sow unit piggery to her business! Her stunning farming efforts have seen her win multiple awards, among them the Agricultural Research Council’s Emerging Beef Farmer of the Year in 2018.

Clifford Mthimkulu

Few things are more satisfying for a farmer than when his son (or daughter!) returns to the family farm to carry on a legacy of hard work and success. It was no different when Clifford Mthimkulu joined dad Koos at the family’s mixed-farming operation in Senekal in the Free State in 2008. It’s a tough farming area: Your cashflow depends on maintaining a fine balance between crops and livestock.

The recent drought tested the Mthimkulus’ technical skills to the extreme. However, having survived the worst drought in a hundred years made handing over the farm that much more special for Koos, the first Mthimkulu in his family to be able to do so.

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African Farming December 2020: Issue 2

December 2020

African Farming tells the
success stories of the country’s
new generation of commercial
black farmers.

The programme is
broadcast every Thursday at
18:30, with repeats on
Sundays at 11:00.

African Farming November 2020: Issue 1

November 2020