When he was just a young boy Samson Mahlaba (73) had always imagined the day he would be called “farmer”. It took fifty patient years of learning and employment as a farm worker before he could realise his vision.
The Free State town of Reitz sets the backdrop of his lifelong dream. Farmer or labourer, it is nearly impossible to ignore the call to farm in this agricultural hub.
With passion he manned his post on the 4500-hectare lands of Fick en Seuns Boerdery, a mixed farming and cattle enterprise owned by his former employer and now mentor Coenraad Fick (63), a fourth-generation farmer.
“I don’t know how I caught this farming thing, or why it chose me. But I accepted it and embraced it. All my life there was this little voice in my head. Night and day, it would whisper in my ear.”
Mahlaba’s lifelong vision now materialised on Hoekieplaas, a commercial enterprise where he has been farming with mielies, soybeans and livestock since 2015.
In a period of five years, the 300-hectare enterprise has morphed into his very own corner of paradise.
Its peculiar name stems from the demarcation of the farm when viewed on an aerial map of Reitz, “there are two roads that lead you to the land I farm,” Mahlaba explains. “One road is on your left side, while the other is on the right. At the end of these roads they meet, they converge. On a map you can see that they form a corner.”
It was all a dream once
Looking back, Mahlaba revisits a time when many could only dream of owning land in this country with a history of complex land issues. While others gave up on the thought entirely, Mahlaba, now an elderly new era farmer, remained committed to his vision.
He recalls a time when young men his age flocked to Gauteng and parts of the Orange Free State chasing gold, mocking him for his disinterest. He says was at peace living the farm life. “That is why I am here today, I envisioned myself as a farmer.”
Patience was a necessary skill that he had to learn and practice. “They don’t lie when they say, ‘money makes the world go ’round,’” he says.
“If there is no money, things unfold slowly, things don’t just happen with the snap of your fingers. That is why I say I took a long road to get here, and I am content now.”
Mahlaba painfully admits that there were many moments where he felt his dreams were unattainable. “I never thought I could reach my goals.”
‘Young black farmers are like snakes’ teeth, they are scarce.’ – Samson Mahlaba
Through unwavering passion, he powered through. His drive for farming so potent that it brought his self-doubt to its knees. “It was not easy to make my dream come true; it was not easy to build my farming passion”.
Today he has built a fully optimal commercial enterprise and sells his livestock at auctions and vegetable crops at the local korporasie. “Phelo ya ka e kgotso (I am at ease),” he asserts, his voice filled with peace.
The bond between Fick and Mahlaba is one that goes beyond racial and status differences. Farmers and farm workers have one goal and one goal only, to feed the nation, says Fick. “We are here to provide food, despite all the bad in the country, we have a job to do.”
His business, Fick en Seuns Boerdery, has set itself the mission to empower people who have worked on the farm so that they may be better equipped for the future.
“Samson is one of our successes and we will continue on that road regardless of the political influences.”
Fick adds that he is always been inspired by Mahlaba’s drive. “There is a lot of mutual trust between me and Samson. We respect each other. He is a man of many talents and is a man of integrity, an honest man. I can only hope he sees me in that same light,” the farmer says.
Mahlaba speaks tenderly about the Ficks. “They are my family. I grew up on that farm. I worked for Coenraad’s father, Kosie. We respect and understand each other very well. As well as his, wife, mother and all his brothers.”
Young black farmers are like “snakes’ teeth” he says. Young people’s impatience often causing them to avoid the industry.
“A young fellow once said to me, ‘I will never farm.’ He said he doesn’t know how farmers stay mentally stable or find the will to carry on.”
The key to success lies in perseverance. “That makes it possible to push through all the challenges and failures.”
“Understand this, you plant money to get money. And sometimes you are not even sure if it will produce a yield. You don’t know what will happen.
“As farmers we are servants of the weather, when it rains, then all will be well, but when there are no rains then you will face hardships.”
See Mahlaba in action on new TV show
Samson Mahlaba is featured on episode 1 of Vir die liefde van die land, a brand-new TV series on VIA, DStv channel 147.
In the series of ten episodes, produced in partnership with the VKB Group, Food For Mzansi co-founder Ivor Price visits new era farmers with amazing life stories to tell. He is joined by Piet Potgieter, VKB’s manager: developing agriculture, who introduces Price to the neighbours, mentors and communities who help these farmers succeed. New episodes of Vir die liefde van die land are shown at 18:00 on Thursdays, with repeats on Sundays at 20:00, Saturdays at 10:30 and Mondays at 08:00.