• Login
  • Search Icon

You sow what you reap - Du Toit (Thabo) van der Wethuizen

August 2021

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

The phrase ‘a closed hand cannot receive’ is a biblical wisdom that applies to everyday human activities – if you are not willing to give something of yourself, you cannot expect anything in return. Grain SA’s development coordinator, Du toit van der Westhuizen – better known as Thabo to farmers in the North West province – is a firm believer of this statement. If he had not helped a neighbour who reached out to him, his life would have turned out very differently and he might even have lost his farm. 

After completing his school career in Lichtenburg, Thabo studied agriculture at the Potchefstroom Agricultural College. He began his farming career working for a commercial producer for seven years, whereafter he ventured into his own farming enterprise. Although finance was a big stumbling block at the onset, his farming enterprise grew and by 2012 he was planting more than 2 000 ha on land which he rented from tribal chiefs in Bophuthatswana. ‘Unfortunately, the climatic conditions were not favourable, and I thought I was going to lose everything by 2013.’ This is when his story began. 

In December 2012 his path crossed with that of Rykie Raphoto, who was part of the Recap Programme, a joint venture between Grain SA and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. Rykie was in desperate need of a planter. ‘He wanted to buy my planter, but at that stage I was already busy planting.’  Thabo suggested that while he was busy planting sunflowers, Rykie could borrow his maize planter as the planting window was running out. Once Thabo had planted his sunflowers, Rykie could then borrow the sunflower planter.

That same evening Willie Kotze, the previous operations manager of the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme, phoned and asked him to become a mentor for a group of farmers who had lost faith in their mentor. Although Thabo knew the farmers well, he had no knowledge of the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme. 

He joined the programme in December 2012 and also did a training course in February 2013. Shortly afterwards the post for North West’s development coordinator was advertised and Thabo was blessed to be employed in this position.

Thabo says that he often shares this testimony at farmers’ days. ‘The point I want to make is this: You can only receive with an open hand, a hand that gives. Nobody can receive with a fist. If I had not helped Rykie, my story would be a very different one.’

The bond that forms between a farmer and his mentor or development coordinator is special. ‘When farmers tell you that you will not be able to retire but will have to do this job until you die as they will never let you go, then one realises the level of trust that has been built up over the years.’

Thabo plants maize, sunflowers, soybeans, groundnuts, potatoes, tef and sugar beans. ‘I decided to turn my farming enterprise into an experimental farm. I plant different crops so that my farmers can learn what works and what doesn’t.’ He also has feedlot cattle and a chicken incubator to teach the farmers the importance of generating cash flow.

He believes that the following practices are a recipe for farming success:

  • Cash flow is of the utmost importance. He tries to encourage farmers to have some way of generating a monthly income because a person cannot survive on the harvest alone. Cash flow is the heartbeat of a farming operation.
  • Knowledge is very important, so don’t be shy to ask questions in order to learn. Look at what your neighbour is doing, ask him for advice. You may think people do not want to share, but have you asked them? Theory in a book can be placed on a bookcase, but what makes the difference is what is learned in the field. Even a successful commercial farmer was once a beginner farmer. 
  • Your attitude makes a big difference. If you are not prepared to get dirty, you are not a farmer. You need to go down on your hands and knees and dig in the ground, if necessary, to see if the seed has been placed correctly. You cannot farm from your stoep.

Thabo is grateful to his parents for the way they raised him. His father was a minister with a passion for agriculture, who bought a small piece of land where they spent their weekends and holidays. It was here where he learned to speak Tswana. ‘I learned from a young age to work hard. My parents also taught me to respect others, irrespective of differences.’

To Thabo being part of the Farmer Development Programme is one of the most inspiring experiences. ‘Working with developing farmers has opened my eyes and enriched my life through valuable life lessons. My reward lies in the inspiration I get from seeing the difference that my involvement makes,’ he shares. 

His biggest inspiration came from an elderly deaf and mute farmer, who started attending the study group meetings after a visit from Thabo. ‘Monsanto had gifted the study group members with 2 kg bags of seed. The chairperson asked if he could take a bag for his neighbour, who had a garden plot. When I heard that he and his wife were deaf and mute, I wanted to meet him. I had to use a form of sign language to explain to him what to do.’

Thabo later returned with fertiliser. This man managed to harvest 40 bags of maize, which was enough for his own use and for that of his extended family. He even had enough to sell to supplement his pension. ‘It is stories like this that enrich my life and make this job worthwhile.’ 

Publication: August 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula