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Businessman turned farmer is building generational wealth

It’s been an uphill road for Tsabello Mapupa (46), but he’s still climbing.

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Tsabello Mapupa (46) watches his livestock with disbelief as it comes out of the kraal. “l can’t believe these are mine. I wake up at night and pinch myself, asking is this a dream? If it is a dream please don’t wake me up,” he says.

This farmer likes fashion and wears stylish, popular branded clothes. It’s been two years since he became a livestock farmer. He lives in Katlehong, a township about 27km east of Johannesburg. Farming livestock for Mapupa came as a coincidence when his friend invited him to bid in an animal auction in Heidelberg, Gauteng.

“I was in doubt of it. I was not a farmer and where was I going to keep these animals? But I said let me go and see what happens,” he says. On his first day he purchased two Bonsmara cows, a breed known for its high-quality beef and resistance to local diseases.

However, due to unavailability of space, he keeps his livestock in his late brother’s land in Rosendal, about 45km away from Ficksburg in the Free State. “I am still looking for my own land where my sheep and cattle can breed as much as they want,” he says.

Mapupa started farming he purchased two Bonsmara cows and today he farms with 116 sheep and 24 cows.Photo: Funiwe Ngwenya

‘These are human beings’

So far, he has 116 sheep and 24 cows. He’s not selling any of his livestock; he’s focused on breeding and buying more sheep for now. When he does start selling, he will be selling his sheep and, with the money generated, he plans to buy more cows.

He loves his livestock so much. “These animals are now a part of the reason why I hustle,” Mapupa says joyfully.

“Every time when one is giving birth, I drop everything in Johannesburg and come to the farm to welcome my new grandchild.”

He says his livestock is well looked after. “For them to love me and give me more grandchildren, I have to feed them and take care of them. These are human beings,” Mapupa says, referring to his livestock.

A rocky journey

Mapupa’s journey to get to where he is today has been frantic and full of turmoil. He grew up as an unprivileged township child. His father was the only breadwinner in the family and did not earn enough to support Mapupa and his siblings. He used to be the laughing stock of his peers for wearing torn, dilapidated clothes.

The trauma of his childhood struggle is still raw. He prefers to tell his life story from 2001, when he was 28 years old. He became a security officer and only worked for three months. “I always wanted new challenges, that’s how we all grow,” he says. After leaving the security company he started selling second hand clothes in Central Johannesburg.

His dream is becoming one of the few black South African farmers to supply cattle and sheep to the rest of Mzansi.

Convincing people to buy his second-hand clothes, while competing with more than 20 other vendors selling similar items at a cheaper price, was a new challenge for him. It forced him to constantly be creative.

In 2004, Mapupa and his church group started making money by handing out flyers, marketing different companies to pedestrians. He worked for three months without getting paid.

“At the time it was hard because I had my firstborn on the way, and I had to provide,” he recalls. The manager told them he would pay each of them R100 for the three-months’ work.

The R50 that rose Tsabello to new levels

It was not a life he dreamt of nor had he planned to have a child living in such conditions. He tried to convince his colleagues to contribute R50 each to start a company, an idea which they disagreed to. As a breadwinner, at this stage he was under immense pressure to support his family.

He took his own R50 and went to purchase items in a shop in Edenvale on the East Rand. “I remember that day very well, I only used R50 to buy baby nappies and milk,” he recalls, adding that he also bought bucket hats and caps which he resold at his local taxi rank. All these items were sold out in 30 minutes. Flabbergasted by this response, he went back to the store to buy more.

He never spent a cent from the profit he made through the hats. Mapupa did not know his savings from just R50 of capital would create greener pastures for him. His business kept on booming.

Tsabello Mapupa
Tsabello Mapupa. Photo: Funiwe Ngwenya

In the following year, in 2005, Mapupa registered his first company, Tsabello Traders and Distributors, which now supplies overalls and safety caps for the Gauteng Department of Community Safety. And now he’s rebranded his company as Tim 73, which also sells pests control.

With the proceeds from the company, Mapupa buys more livestock. “I am building next generation wealth and I am patient with the journey,” Mapupa says. In 2015, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries gave him a livestock identification certificate, which enables livestock to be identifiable and traced back to the owner.

His dream is becoming one of the few black South African farmers to supply cattle and sheep to the rest of Mzansi. But this goal won’t be easy. it needs wits, determination and good old hard work. “My dream is to see my name on the list of Africa’s livestock suppliers. I want to be the one of the biggest,” he says.

Funiwe Ngwenya
Funiwe Ngwenya
Funiwe Ngwenya is a female photographer who values visual storytelling. She studied BA Film and Television at University of Johannesburg. She is currently a fulltime photographer and documentary maker. She fell in love with agriculture when she joined the Slow Food movement. Her work has appeared at the University of Gastronomic Science and the campaign Total Shutdown. Funiwe believes the world wouldn’t exist if it was not visual and every photograph is a certificate of presence.
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