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February 2020

Louise Kunz, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to louise@infoworks.biz  

With South Africans being bombarded with negative news, it is very difficult to remain positive about the country. Perhaps we need to focus more on good news, like the website www.sagoodnews.co.za, a news website that highlights the positive developments in South Africa. 

A quote from an unknown source reveals that overthinking is the biggest cause of our unhappiness. ‘Keep yourself occupied. Keep your mind off things that don’t help you. Think positive.’ 

When the pressure of land claims led Lauwrens Potgieter to his decision to stop farming, he decided to do this. ‘I did not want to sit around and brood but made the decision to keep busy by helping others and trying to make a difference through sharing my knowledge,’ this former Jobs Funds mentor says.

Lauwrens, who farmed with maize, soybeans and cattle for 40 years in the Carolina area in Mpumalanga, was involved in the Grain SA Mentorship Programme for two seasons. He had heard about the programme and realised that his knowledge and farming experience could be useful in the area. 

He admits the biggest challenge at the onset of his involvement was to ‘think small’. ‘I had become so use to planting on a big scale, that it was almost intimidating to start thinking in terms of a single hectare.’ However, he went back to the basics to make sure he could help these farmers succeed. ‘I hope after mastering their 1 ha and improving their yield, some of them will be able to expand their operations.’

Another challenge Lauwrens faced was when he realised that his limited knowledge of the IsiZulu language could hamper the study sessions in some of the more remote areas he had to visit. Because he was so committed to the programme, he employed the services of an interpreter who he paid out of his own pocket. ‘This way I ensured that everyone would understand what had to be done.’

To Lauwrens experience, good people skills and patience are three of the key qualities a mentor needs. ‘Being a mentor will teach you patience very quickly if you do not have it,’ he adds with a smile. He says it is also very important to make time to visit the farmers as often as possible to give some individual attention to their farming operation. ‘I could see that it made them feel important when I popped in to see if what we had discussed in the study groups was being applied.’ 

The 160 farmers in Lauwrens’s groups were divided into four study groups spread over a distance of 400 km. Although there was a lot of interest in especially maize production, limited knowledge of correct agricultural practices had hampered good yields.
In this area many of the farmers did not want to apply herbicides as it would kill the morogo or pumpkin which had been planted between the maize. Others would try to save fertiliser for a next season by not applying it all. This is where the theoretical side of the programme was very useful as farmers would discuss their successes and failures and inspire each other to apply the correct agricultural practices. 

One of the farmers who benefited from his expertise in these groups was the 2019 Grain SA/Absa/John Deere Financial Subsistence Farmer of the Year, Mazonya Dhlamini. ‘I am very proud of this humble, quiet farmer. There are so many people who ask lots of questions and then don’t follow the advice we share, but Mazonya went home after the study sessions and applied the information. With personal visits, I could see that he takes pride in what he is doing.’

As with so many of the mentors, Lauwrens also realised that no matter the size of your land, farmers face the same problems. In the areas he supervised one group would receive sufficient rain and could realise a good yield, while the other battled to make ends meet as a result of the drought. Marketing is another stumbling block these farmers face.

‘I actually miss mentoring the farmers,’ Lauwrens shares. He says one of the aspects that really made a huge impact in his own life was the farmers’ ‘rock-solid’ faith. Meetings were always opened with a prayer and when they prayed for rain they always believed it would rain. The positive interaction between family members, all working together for a common goal, also impressed him.

Lauwrens is honest about the problems in South Africa and the impact it has on the older generation. He admires the youth who tackle stumbling blocks head on. This and what he witnessed as a mentor has given him hope for South Africa. 

Since September 2019 more than 700 000 members have joined the facebook page, #ImStaying, where South Africans share their reasons for staying in the country. At the Day of Celebration held on 2 October 2019 at NAMPO Park outside Bothaville, various members of Grain SA – including Jannie de Villiers, the CEO, supported the #ImStaying movement. 

In the South African daily online newspaper, the Daily Maverick, businessman Glen Heneck, wrote the following: ‘To simply declare “I’m staying” is not in itself a meaningful moral commitment. What is needed, is a more comprehensive pledge embodying a thought-through commitment to help build a better society.’ This is what the Grain SA mentorship programme and a group of mentors, like Lauwrens Potgieter, have been helping to do. 

Publication: February 2020

Section: Pula/Imvula