The son of farmworkers, Maqala grew up in the eastern Free State town of Ficksburg where he would imagine the day he would take ownership of the title “farmer”.
His vision would however only become reality some 50 years later and 49 km away from his place of birth, in the town of Rosendal where he farms on no less than 700 hectares of land.
He recalls blissful days spent out of school, working the lands of his father’s employer with his dad, side by side on a tractor.
“When I think about my life, agriculture has been my constant driver. It’s a way of life, it is my life,” he says.
Since 2003, the Free State-born, up-and-coming commercial farmer has taken to the industry like a duck to water.
“When I was a child, I dreamed of helping not just my family but my community,” Maqala says.
“I wanted to help them by improving their livelihoods, so that they have more income to thrive.”
Today Maqala runs a thriving mixed farming enterprise, producing beef cattle, goats and five grain crops including maize and wheat.
“Agriculture is a source of life; it is my life. It is like a gift that keeps giving,” he says.
“I want to grow food for people and create job opportunities for myself and the people in my community.”
The son of farmworkers
Maqala has had dreams of becoming a landowner since he was a young boy.
The son of farmworkers, he remembers his days as a herder, looking after the cattle, milking cows, and feeding chickens.
“I grew up on a farm and would often help (my father) whenever I returned from school. I loved farming so much that I would actually miss a day of school just to spend time with him on that tractor,” he recalls.
‘I want to grow food for people and create job opportunities for myself and the people in my community.’
Tragedy struck his family when he was 15 in the 1970’s. He had to fill his father’s shoes as a farmworker earning minimum wage to care for his widowed mother and siblings.
“I started work in the same fields my father did as a boy.”
“I had to care for my mother and siblings and dropped out of school to provide for them. I was only earning R1 a month. It may have seemed little, but we managed to survive,” Maqala recalls.
Four years after his father’s passing Maqala would seek out better opportunities to care for his family. He went to Gauteng where he became a truck driver until he was 25.
Not one to idle, Maqala would set his sights on exciting business ventures, becoming a street vendor selling cabbages and other produce and later the owner of two taxi’s.
‘There are hard times that you will come across in any business before you find your feet.’
He only began farming on a small plot he leased from the Dithabeng local municipality in the 1990’s, funded by his taxi business.
Years later he would obtain the 326-ha Die Hoop farm through government’s proactive land acquisition strategy (PLAS). He would also lease an additional the 197-ha farm, Kosmos, through a loan from the Land Bank.
He has since leased 186 ha of Highfields near his farm. His lands totalling 709 ha boasts cattle, sheep, goats and five different types of crops, solidifying his footing as a producer.
‘An ageing farmer must keep up’
Being a black farmer in the eastern Free State, Maqala confesses that his presence still raises eyebrows at one or two local auctions in his community. “I stick out like a sore thumb sometimes,” he says boisterously.
He adds that being an ageing farmer sometimes has its challenges too. While he is still energetic and actively involved on his enterprise, he says keeping up with everchanging developments can prove to be tasking.
“Things are always changing. Agriculture is a constant learning experience, every year there is new technology and improvements.
“You will think you have mastered one skill only to find three years have passed and you need to learn a new method,” he sniggers.
However, he is grateful of the olive branch and eager assistance his presence has invoked at these auctions. “There are those white farmers who will go out of their way to help me and give me guidance,” he says.
Other challenges that present stumbling blocks in his journey include, successive droughts, stock theft and farm fires.
“The drought has been a painful experience,” he says.
A business without challenges is a myth, he believes. “There are hard times that you will come across before you find your feet. Currently, it is still hard for me to get access to funding,” he says.
He refuses to dwell on his struggles, “As farmers we are struggling, but we have had it easier than other businesses. We were allowed to continue our operations (during the covid-19 lockdown) while they were suffering,” he says sombrely.
“When you work hard you reap the rewards,” he says.
“The farm will take care of you when you take care of it. This job is not for lazy people. You need to be present, you need to be hands-on. You cannot say you are farming but you are idling and let people do the work for you, no. Be there and do the work.”
- Maqala is featured on episode 7 of Vir die liefde van die land, a brand-new TV show by VKB, Food For Mzansi and WYRD Films. In the show, presenter Ivor Price and VKB Group farmer mentor Piet Potgieter meets remarkable farmers and their neighbours, mentors and communities who give them wings. The episode featuring Maqala can still be watched on repeats on VIA, DStv channel 147.