Sibusiso Mogale is a farmer from eNgodini, Mbombela in Mpumalanga who produces chickens and organic vegetables. He knows the struggles that many small-scale farmers across Mzansi face, but he is up against a major challenge that the more typical farmer does not have to contend with.
Born without hands due to a congenital condition called phocomelia, Mogale works his entire 1.5-hectare farm mainly using his feet. This is how he prepares the soil for planting a variety of vegetables and tends to the chickens in his 2000-capacity chicken house.
“When I was younger there were certain things that I felt were unfair, but now that I am older I have a different, positive recollection of how good my upbringing was,” he says.
The 33-year-old go-getter has never let his difference get in his way, earning his way into a prestigious school on a sports scholarship and later representing South Africa in swimming events across the world.
Growing up in eNgodini with a disability wasn’t without challenges. Raised by his grandmother, who serves as an inspiration on his farming journey, Mogale recalls being rejected by “able-bodied” schools due to fears of bullying.
“They felt like they were protecting me, but perhaps they were protecting themselves,” he says.
He had to attend a school for disabled children in Johannesburg from grade 3 until grade 11 were he pushed himself to excel in swimming. His excellence afforded him a swimming scholarship in an “able-bodied” private school in Bedfordview when he was still doing grade 11.
“I can’t cry for something I don’t have. If I need to eat and farm with my feet I will do so, because that’s all I have and I will use it to the fullest.’’
“Before I came to the school, they had a meeting with all the kids in the assembly to announce the boy who’s joining them with no arms. Most guys were weird around me because they were told not to be offensive towards me. Honestly, that was a bit tough because my peers could never be themselves around me,” Mogale recalls.
He went on to become the school’s sportsman of the year three times in a row, amongst many subsequent sports accolades.
The start of an organic enterprise
Mogale’s journey has had some highs and lows that have shaped him to become the farmer that he is today. His dedication to work hard for what he wants pushed him to finance his own automatic car.
“I was sitting in a taxi and I struggled to get money out of my tight jean pockets. The taxi driver kicked me out of the taxi and nobody helped me to prove that I had the taxi fare to begin with.’’
This was one of the lowest points in his life. Along with his determination to be a caring father to his two-year-old daughter Nosibusiso and husband to his wife, Nomonde, this moment of helpless humiliation has served as motivation to succeed in his farming journey.
The seeds for his getting into the agriculture sector was sown way back in his childhood. His grandmother would plant the food they ate every day at home so he got firsthand experience with sweet potato, cabbage and spinach from an early age.
“Most people always offer me help without ever asking me if I need it, they always just insist. Farming was an escape for me in the beginning because I started to gain freedom, I could start doing things for myself,” he recalls.
The sense of ownership from looking after his seeds while they grew into the fruits of his own labour gave him so much pride that he realised the power the agriculture sector possesses.
A diversified farming business
Mogale is now the CEO of Sibusiso Mogale Production (Pty) Ltd, which specialises in organic vegetables. He grows spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, green peppers, chillies and mielies on 1.5 ha he leases.
He also diversified into poultry with layers and broilers, selling directly to consumers. “I am still busy building my structure to house more broilers,” he says.
He has found the climate and location of eNgodini to be favourable for his organic enterprise and has plans to scale up his commercial production.
Mogale has a direct market for selling his produce to the local businesses around him. He also sells to local customers and the informal sector, with hawkers selling his vegetables on the streets.
He doesn’t use any chemicals on his produce. “I use ash from burnt wood, dried grass and my poultry manure to make my own compost fertiliser.’’
He sprays his vegetables with water mixed with salt or Sunlight liquid. When it comes to de-worming and antibiotics, he feeds his chickens moringa.
The challenge of funding is a huge factor for Mogale. He works the farm with minimal assistance and he has found farming to be a very expensive undertaking. “I have spent a lot of money to make money, and to make my life a bit simpler when it comes to the labour of my farm,” he says.
However, Mogale is testament to the farming scripture that says, “Work with what you have and funding will just have to catch up with you along the way’’.
“I used to wear a jacket with sleeves and put them in my pocket to give the impression of having hands. But now that I have the realisation that I don’t have hands and there’s nothing I can do about it, I have come to accept and appreciate myself.
“I can’t cry for something I don’t have. If I need to eat and farm with my feet I will do so, because that’s all I have and I will use it to the fullest’’.
Words of wisdom
Mogale’s message for the young people in Mzansi is to get proactive and to stop expecting things to just come to them.
“Take initiative, form groups and research opportunities to start a business. I am not doing anything different, I am using what I have and there is nothing unique or special about that concept,’’ he says.
He reminds us to believe in ourselves and remember that we are the best versions of ourselves and that we don’t need to change for anyone.