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From thriving taxi owner to top farmer

February 2022


Bheki Mabuza (48) knows what it feels like to stare death in the face. As a successful taxi boss, he became a target and was shot by rivals. However, this painful event had a very positive outcome. After recovering, Bheki made the decision to swop city life for the farm and taxis for cattle – and he has never looked back.

Bheki is primarily a cattle farmer and owns 500 cows and 22 Brangus bulls. When he joined Grain SA eight years ago, he started attending study group sessions and became so inspired that he decided to try his hand at planting maize. He started small and planted only 3 ha, then increased it to 12 ha and later to 30 ha when the harvest was successful. 

Through hard work (and asking many questions), he is now planting 110 ha of maize on land owned by him and his brother. He also leases 40 ha of land from a neighbouring farmer, where he plants soybeans. He dreams of owning a crop farm where he can plant at least 400 ha of maize.

In 2019 Bheki was one of the runners-up in the Grain SA Smallholder Farmer of the Year competition. In 2020, with a yield of 14,7 t/ha which was planted between 10 October and 28 October 2020, at a planting density of 55 000 plants/ha, he walked away with a third place in the category for maize production in the eastern Highveld region in the Grain SA Grow for Gold National Yield Competition.

What makes this achievement even more spectacular, is that Bheki, who farms on Donkerhoek in the Piet Retief region near Amersfoort in Mpumalanga, competed amongst some of the top South African commercial maize producers.

He would like to thank Grain SA, who ‘opened a new world’ to him through the study groups and training. Through Grain SA his path also crossed with Francois Scheepers, also known as Soois or Skippies, who became his mentor. ‘Skippies explained everything to me. He taught me everything I know, even how to calibrate planters and set sprayers. Now I can help myself. He has put the light on and showed me where I had to walk,’ says Bheki about his mentor, for whom he has great respect and admiration. Soois was also the first person he phoned after receiving his Grow for Gold certificate.

Bheki has successfully completed four training courses for which he received certificates. ‘Although the study groups and training have played a huge role in the knowledge he has accumulated in the past eight years, it is his hunger for information that has played the biggest part in his success,’ says Jurie Mentz, development coordinator at Grain SA’s Louwsburg regional office.

‘To be a successful farmer, you have to keep on learning,’ says Bheki, who never hesitates to ask if he wants to know something. ‘You must ask the people who have travelled the road ahead of you for advice – that is how you learn.’

Bheki has not just learned about the soil and the crops that grow on the farm but has also made sure he knows his ‘enemy’. He asked Skippies about any weeds that grow in the field. ‘This way I learned what the weed is and how to get rid of it.’

He has also focussed on getting his soils balanced and is following excellent liming and fertilisation practices. Regular soil sampling is done, and problems are identified and rectified timeously. All these practices contribute to his average yield of 10,68 t/ha on the 110 ha of maize planted. On the day of the interview (in December 2021), he had already received 230 mm of rain and was feeling very positive about the season ahead.

Bheki shares the following advice with other farmers:

  • Timing is important. Know your planting window. Find out what you must spray and when it is the best time to spray.
  • Don’t mix crops. Each crop has its own spray programme and chemicals. 
  • Know your soil. If you do soil sampling, analysis and corrections early in the season, it will make an enormous difference in the yields at the end of the season. Do not underestimate the importance of adding lime to your soil.
  • Know your weeds and how to control them.
  • Do an annual post-season business analysis. This way you can see what you did right and where things went off track. 
  • Be ready for the next season. When you have finished planting, first pay off all your debts and buy your inputs – seeds, chemicals and fertiliser – for the next season and keep it in storage. You cannot wait until it rains before you buy your inputs.
  • Do not think if you make a lot of money, it will be available for years to come. There may be a drought, so don’t spend money on things that will not bring in money.
  • Do not be scared or ashamed to ask. ‘I did not know anything about planting soybeans, so I asked my neighbours. If you do not ask, you won’t learn, and you will waste a lot of money.’
  • Be passionate about farming. ‘Although it is nice to make money, I am passionate about the process of planting, watching the crops grow, harvesting and doing it again next year. My maize is helping to eliminate hunger in South Africa.’  

Publication: February 2022

Section: Pula/Imvula