“Mother of the Cows” believes agriculture is for everyone

“Agriculture is the future. It feels as if we have gold in our hands. Ten years from now I want people to come to me at Nampo and tell me that African Farming hooked them on agriculture” 

Years ago, it would have been difficult to believe a black woman with a successful career as a radio presenter could also be a farmer. Yet, that is exactly what Angie Khumalo, presenter of African Farming, has achieved and now she wants to inspire others to take up farming, too.  

“Most people think if they don’t have 100ha of land, they can’t farm. I’ve always believed: just start! It doesn’t matter how much you have, just do something,” says Angie Khumalo, presenter of the new television programme African Farming. She’s pulled to the side of the road to chat to me. It had been one of those days: one meeting after the other, voice recordings to do and a string of other appointments.  

“I can’t wait to get back to my cattle. That’s where I’m at my happiest and I can breathe,” says the glamorous Metro FM presenter, who has thousands of followers on social media.  

When she started farming, she had virtually nothing. “My mother, Joan, is a nurse and single parent who worked her fingers to the bone to get us kids into Model C schools, and later through university,” says Angie. “When she wasn’t working, she was a subsistence farmer on communal land in rural KwaZulu-Natal – farming with vegetables and chickens. We had to help her and so we grew up with our hands in the soil. My uncle, Agrippa Khumalo – the best person I know – was the same. When we visited him on my mother’s smallholding, he would always be busy with his chickens or garden and we had to give him a hand. That’s where my love for agriculture took hold; it’s in my blood and for us it was a way of life.” 

Early on in her career she realised that as a freelancer in the radio industry she’d need another source of income. Farming was the obvious choice.  

“Shelf life is always something to keep in mind,” says Angie. “There will come a time when you are not as relevant any more because younger and more interesting people are coming through the ranks all the time. That’s why you need to develop new and different skills. I call it my ‘next’ or retirement plan for when my radio career comes to an end.” 

Angie started buying cattle – one, two at a time. Her colleague DJ Fresh teased her, saying she was adopting cattle. He gave her the nickname “Mother of the Cows”. At first her “cow children” grazed on communal land in KwaZulu-Natal.  

“I didn’t know anything about cattle farming, and it was a steep learning curve for me. A few years ago, I bought land in Westonaria and started farming seriously. In the beginning I had 20 heifers and a bull. Today I have a herd of almost 46,” says Angie proudly about her farm, Izikhali Zamantungwa Enterprise.  

She describes her cattle as a bunch of “mongrels” and says if she had all the money in the world, she would breed Borans. 

“They are such majestic animals. I just love how they carry themselves and their heavy bodies. The first time I saw Borans, I just said ‘wow!’. But I also want to start a feedlot and for that mongrels are good.” 

The family’s pride and joy 

A cowherd looks after her cattle, but when it’s calving season or time for vaccination, Angie and Joan roll up their sleeves and do it themselves. 

“When I bought the farm, my mother came to see the land and to bless it. She basically never left! As a nurse she’s not afraid to turn a calf with her hand and she understands the different types of injections.” 

Angie’s grandmother worked for a farmer, and 12-year-old Agrippa needed to work on the farm too, so his siblings could go to school. 

“That’s what it was like in the not-so-wonderful old days of apartheid. Given the right opportunities, my mom and uncle would have made excellent farmers. For them it’s massive to see me living their dream. Few things can compare to you realising a dream that nobody thought possible. My uncle never thought a black woman could become a farmer and create a future for herself on a commercial level. He is the closest thing I have to a father, so it pleases me no end to see how proud he is of me.” 

However, she doesn’t do it just for them. This self-confessed petrolhead, who owns three motorbikes and is crazy about reading, especially biographies, loves the outdoors.  

“You are in close contact with nature and you need to have a good relationship with her – that way she’ll reward you with the fruits of your labour. It is a delicate, almost spiritual, relationship. I love the fact that you can become one with nature.” 

But, as with many farmers, money is her biggest obstacle. 

“My whole salary goes into the farm. I can’t remember when last I went on holiday. Every time I feel like I need a break, I always think I should rather use the money for feed.” 

That is why she says, you don’t need much to start farming.  

Take the first step 

“Just start, whether it’s with five heads of cabbage in your garden in the squatter camp or a few goats at your grandmother’s place in the countryside. You can handle the rest as it comes up, but don’t sit and wait for opportunity to come to you. If people can make the mind shift to help themselves rather than to wait for others to help them, it will change everything,” says Angie. 

Through her Meet the Farmer initiative on radio and Instagram, and now also with African Farming, she hopes to educate people about the different ways to farm and how to overcome the challenges that farming presents. 

“Agriculture is the future. It feels as if we have gold in our hands. But it’s not a popular career choice among young people. I want to make it fashionable by telling stories of people who went looking for a future (and found it). Hopefully it will encourage the unemployed youth, or anyone looking for something different to do, to consider farming. 

“We have a certain idea of what a farmer is. We think he’s white, wears khaki and drives a bakkie, but this has changed over the years. Just yesterday I chatted to a 22-year-old lady from the Northern Cape, who farms with livestock. It’s people like her who take initiative in the industry and are doing well. I want to celebrate them. I love success stories such as the 27-year-old man from the Eastern Cape, who manages 3 000ha of maize. Or the guy in the first episode of the series, who’s a second-generation farmer and who, in spite of the challenges of farming on government land, has made a name for himself and won awards. I just love stories of people who move upstream, but still take their place at the table to become a force to be reckoned with.  

“Ten years from now I want people to come to me at Nampo and tell me that watching African Farming hooked them on agriculture.” 

The engaging Angie says it is difficult to image herself as a television personality. “But sometimes it’s good to do things that are not your forte. The section about farming and the inspirational stories make every minute worth it.” 

She has “a lot of messages” for young people, but the “most import one” is that farming is a viable career choice. 

“It could eliminate so much of the bad in our country. It’s a way to keep us focused and to alleviate hunger and poverty. And on top of that, it doesn’t require a lot of input to start,” she emphasizes.