Edwin Thulo Mahlatsi, an established farmer in the Free State and Grain SA’s 2017 New Era Farmer of the Year, has experienced nothing but good fortune over the past few years. He has earned it through hard work, perseverance and never losing sight of his goals. Even though Mahlatsi is in his mid-seventies it hasn’t stopped him from becoming the farmer of Swartlaagte farm in Bultfontein 100km north of Bloemfontein.

In 2012, with the help of his former employer, Frikkie Rautenbach, Mahlatsi obtained a lease agreement on the farm through the government’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS). Mahlatsi was then able to make use of some of Rautenbach’s farming equipment.

Things however took a tragic turn in 2014 when Rautenbach, who was the previous owner of Swartlaagte, passed away. It left Mahlatsi in a predicament and he found himself without work, lacking capital and equipment to run his farm. Shortly thereafter he joined Grain SA, the non-profit organisation representing the grain producers of South Africa. They assisted him with the necessary knowledge and tools through their Farmer Development Programme. Grain SA helped him gain a lease agreement for the Swartlaagte farm. As a team, Mahlatsi and Grain SA developed a plan to put the 210 hectares of soil to best use.

Edwin Mahlatsi who was once the foreman of Swartlaagte farm later became the farmer of the same farm.
Edwin Mahlatsi who was once the foreman of Swartlaagte farm later became the farmer of the same farm.

“Grain SA has been very helpful with training in farming. They assisted me to get funding from government and to keep up with new farming techniques for me to do better than before,” says Mahlatsi.

As part of the programme Grain SA has also linked him up with Christiaan Bouwer, a farmer mentoring Mahlatsi. According to Mahlatsi, he knew Bouwer years before Bouwer became his mentor. “I have known Christiaan Bouwer since he was a little boy. I also know his father very well…ours has been a long journey. He helps me a lot and does so with a kind heart.”

What makes Mahlatsi’s story extraordinary is the fact that he is now running Swartlaagte farm, where he previously worked as a foreman and where he was raised.

Today, together with his daughter Doreen, Mahlatsi farms with beef cattle, sheep and maize. He may see livestock as the most profitable asset when it comes to farming, but he mainly farms with maize.

Mahlatsi’s journey is proof that age is just a number if you still have dreams that you want to pursue.