African Farming’s presenter is a television icon synonymous with sports and news.
Tony has a wealth of knowledge about business, current affairs, news, and sports. He has interviewed top local and international politicians, leaders and sportsmen and has a firm grasp of Mzansi’s major issues. But he also understands the issues our farmers face specifically, and how those challenges ultimately impact the consumer.
Get to know Tony to find out what makes him tick, what connections he has to farming, and what he hopes to learn from this journey.
Tell us a bit about your background – where were you born, what did you study and how did you get into broadcasting?
I was born in a place called Wedza, about a hundred kilometres from Harare. I studied advertising, marketing, and PR. I was a copywriter for a long time. I now have my own businesses but early on in my career I did mainly advertising and marketing.
How did you make the leap to broadcasting?
I got into radio through a friend of mine who was doing radio at the time, and I was just tagging along with him. After they heard my voice and liked it, I was given a chance and ended up doing Radio Bop, Khaya FM, 5FM, 94.7 for a couple of years. So, it was all purely by chance.
With TV, I think I was at 94.7 at that point, I was working the 9am to 1pm slot, after Jeremy Mansfield. SuperSport asked me if I would be interested in doing some rugby. I was like, ‘Yah, cool.’ I love the sport, and I played it to a certain level. Then they just put me on air one day, and that’s how it started. Literally, it was one of those things where they go: ‘Fantastic, here’s your mic, here’s your kit, let’s go for it’.
Now with African Farming – what do you want to get out of this experience, meeting farmers as the new presenter on the show?
I’ve always been interested in farming. It’s a daunting thing, but if I had lived another life, I would have been a farmer and lived off the land. I think there must be incredible satisfaction in being able to plant something, nurture and watch it grow and then to be able to say this is the end-product of something I started three to six months ago.
As a businessman, do you think business skills are important for farmers?
Definitely. You’ve got to have business sense. You may know your soil and everything else involved in crop production, but at the end of the day you should know why you are in it. Farming is a business. It is one thing to produce products, on whichever scale, but it is quite another to be able to sell it. Farmers should be able to understand the basics about markets and prices, and why it’s important to diversify.
Was farming part of how you grew up?
My father had a medium-scale farming operation. You could say he was a semi-commercial farmer. Before going to school and during school holidays I was in the field at 5 o’clock in the morning or herding cattle. You’re going to school and then during holidays you’re grafting. We grew up in that set up. It was the reality of my life. It teaches you to work hard. You’re not afraid of hard work by the end of that.
Farming has a lot to do with community spirit and teamwork. What do you hope to see of community spirit as you travel across Mzansi to meet the farmers?
I would like to see small farmers, big farmers, white and black farmers, working together in the spirit of Ubuntu. I would love to see skills transferred from the established farmers to the upcoming farmers. This is a necessary part of transformation. It must be that way. At some point farming must become inclusive. I don’t think people should feel threatened in any way whatsoever, especially when it comes to something like agriculture, because ultimately it really is a case of ‘the more the merrier’. We have more mouths to feed with the limited land that we have. There’s always a need for food, so no one should feel like they are losing out. That’s what I would love to see.
Tony talks about growing produce and taking it a step further to processing, so that farmers own a piece of the value chain and can create their own brand. He runs restaurants and adds value to agricultural products. Behind his cool and calm exterior Tony is a man who is intensely passionate about business and growth.
Tell us a little bit about how your restaurants came about and what your focus is?
The restaurant is all about the love of food. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but it just seemed a little daunting. Now that I have a bit more time to do it, I decided – you know what, you only live once. There’s only one person that has ever come back from death, so let me give it a shot and just go for it.
We serve traditional food in a restaurant-lounge type scenario. The restaurant is called Funk Ba in Fourways and Greenstone. There are so many types of food available, but my wife and I could never find our own food. We used to get cravings for traditional African dishes and then we would have to drive all the way to Soweto or Alex to find it. I was out one day with a friend and I just thought – Okay, this is ridiculous. We’re busy giving other people money, and they don’t give us the service that we want. And so, we just went for it.
What’s your favourite dish?
It’s pap, morogo and pork trotters. Then I like cow heels, cow’s head and mogodu. We do a very nice mogodu. And we serve ox tongue and mopani worms as well. Those are actually very popular mainly because we do them properly, the traditional way. We’re also going to be making our own amasi served with iphuthu.
A big part of the pride you put into the dishes you serve is finding the right ingredients. Tell us about sourcing your ingredients?
I have to go downtown into the Joburg CBD, or to the Randburg markets for some ingredients like the mopani worms, roasted peanuts, cows heads and tongue, and the morogo, mainly the pumpkin leaves. If you take a walk downtown you’ll find very interesting ways in which some of the stuff is done down there. There’s a couple of things we really have to search for like Kapenta, bream and Tilapia fish.. The Tilapia comes from Lake Kariba and we get Kariba Bream. But we also source locally.
What impact do you think your African Farming journey and your meeting these 13 farmers, could have on your restaurants and on the food you serve?
I’m hoping this journey will increase my respect and awareness for the food we handle in the restaurants. Getting to know where it comes from and what goes into producing it. You can go to a supplier and order 20 bunches of this or that vegetable with no thought. It’s all too easy. You chuck it in the fridge and later on you chop it up. But if you see it on the land, and you realise the effort that’s been put into producing it, you might have a little more respect for what you’re doing in the kitchen. And maybe for how you serve it. I’m hoping it makes us better at what we’re trying to put out there in every single dish.
What do you want viewers to take away from each episode or from the season?
I hope they learn one or two things about starting their own farming operation. I hope the country comes to appreciate its farmers and the circumstances under which they operate. I would like people to understand where products in the supermarket really come from. It started with somebody cultivating the soil and planting a seed, then having the patience to nurture it and watch it grow. I think, as people, we’ve all grown a little impatient. Perhaps a series like this could help us to stop wasting so much. The way we waste things now, where we just throw things away, is terrible. But I would also like the viewers, particularly the aspirant farmers, to be inspired. They will meet people very much like themselves, who have gone out and done it.