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October 2021


Like so many South Africans, Fanelwa Bangani Siphoko (43) from Johannesburg found the initial three-week lockdown period in 2020 overwhelming, but it was during this time that her passion for agriculture was ignited.

Fanelwa, who is an accountant at Transnet, says she has always had a fear of the unknown. During the lockdown, she wondered if she would be one of the many South Africans who would lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic. ‘We weren’t allowed to move around freely and were cooped up indoors, so I ended up worrying all the time as I watched the news. I started feeling depressed and realised I must do something to keep busy.’

Across the road, an idle piece of land was calling for her attention. Armed with her garden fork, spade, hoe and the right attitude she started cultivating the soil. ‘I worked the soil in the village way – working with my hands and keeping my mind busy.’ Even though people in her neighbourhood were laughing at her, she kept going. She planted vegetables and later supplied home-grown vegetables to those in need in her area. 

‘I love being outside, working in the soil and really am more comfortable when I am in my gumboots than in office attire. Sometimes I think I was supposed to be a man,’ Fanelwa laughs. When she realised that it is the most content she has felt in years, her mind was made up: She was going to become a farmer. She found a 3,4 hectare piece of land in the Bronkhorstspruit area to rent. The land had been lying fallow for many years and she wanted to plant maize there.

‘I love the internet and Google everything,’ she says. ‘While Googling how to grow maize, Grain SA popped up on my screen. I saw Jurie Mentz’s name and contact details, so I phoned him and started bugging him every day. Jurie laughed when I told him I was going to knock until the door is opened. He was extremely welcoming and helpful.’

Jurie put her in touch with Shadrack Mabuza, a mentor of Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme in Mpumalanga. Jurie and Shadrack advised her to begin small by planting 1 hectare only. She also had to pay a fee to be supplied with the necessary advice and inputs. ‘At one stage I thought this could be a scam, but I desperately wanted to farm, so I took a chance.’

Lockdown made training a novice farmer quite challenging, and to make matters worse, Fanelwa was without electricity for three months due to service problems in the area. These stumbling blocks were nothing compared to Fanelwa’s determination to succeed. ‘Jurie explained the whole process of maize production telephonically. He was always available to offer guidance whenever I needed it. I still haven’t met him in person and hope it will be possible one day to shake his hand and say thank you.’ 

Fanelwa was so determined to succeed that she also knocked on her neighbour, Phillip du Plessis’s, door. The guidance of these three knowledgeable mentors helped her to produce 1 ton of maize last season. ‘My mind is made up: I am going to be a successful farmer.’ 

Unfortunately, after a season’s hard work the owner of the land has decided to take it back and Fanelwa had to wave goodbye to her hard work. ‘He wanted to move me to another piece of land which he owns, but I refused. I invested a lot of money in the first piece of land, but without a contract the owner can now just take over my success.’

This has, however, in no way deterred her or shattered her dream. She has already found a 30-hectare plot in the Bronkhorstspruit area to lease and will do so with a contract in place this time around. ‘I am starting on a clean slate, but this time I know the challenges I will be facing.’

Fanelwa realises that a beginner farmer has to be patient, but with a focused mind, passion and determination – and the assistance of Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme – she knows she will be successful. 

She is planning to plant maize again and to learn more about the production process. ‘I will continue doing it until I fully grasp what maize production is all about. Then I will move on to sunflower planting.’

She also intends to attend study group meetings and do the necessary courses to improve her agricultural knowledge. ‘I am willing to do more, work harder and expand my knowledge – lockdown forced me into my calling. I am fortunate to have the support of my husband, Mvano Siphoko, who is going to keep his livestock on the new piece of land as well, so we will share the costs.’ Their dream is to own their own land one day and be able to support themselves through their combined farming endeavours.

According to Robert Kiyosaki, an American businessman and author, the size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire, the size of your dream and how you handle disappointment along the way. With a strong desire, a big dream and the way she has already handled disappointment, Fanelwa Bangani has proven that she is destined to succeed. 

Publication: October 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula