Just like his favourite animal – the sable antelope, which he describes as humble – Xolile Dasheka also had humble beginnings. The only thing that distinguished him from other children growing up in a township about 45 km east of Bloemfontein was probably his fondness of nature.
This fire was ignited earlier during his youth as he spent his first few years as the son of agri workers in the Free State. According to Dasheka, his parents, who relocated to Botshabelo in 1979, inspired him to also have his own animals and today this game farmer is an inspiration to many in the industry.
So much so that the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa’s (AFASA) third Agribusiness Transformation Conference was hosted at his farm venue, Imvelo Safari, this week.
His farm, situated 25 km outside Bloemfontein on the N6 to Reddersburg, not only boasts game such as sable antelope, springbok, blesbok, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, lechwe, impala, buffalo and zebra, but an upmarket venue and accommodation facilities.
More traditional Free State farms, with sheep, cattle and horses grazing in the veld, greet you along the gravel road after taking the turnoff to Imvelo Safari from the N6. And suddenly, without seeing it coming, the picture changes. You stumble upon the magnificent lodge and see antelope and zebra grazing in the distance.
Childhood love for animals and plants
“My passion for farming started at a very early age,” Dasheka (50) says. It was on the farm Sewesterpan near the small Free State town of Petrusburg where he was born that it all started.
“I was inspired by my parents who were farm workers, but also had their own livestock. I always read about many stories of white farmers who wouldn’t allow their workers to keep their livestock on their farms, but my parents’ situation was different in that they were allowed to keep both sheep and cattle on their employer’s farm without hassle.”
Dasheka says farming is his passion. It is in his blood and from a very young age he had an “undying love for animals and plants”. And this passion wasn’t just going to fade away. This fire kept burning, even when he was pursuing other occupations.
His first job was driving trucks at Spoornet. He was also a traffic officer for around 13 years of his life. “I started as a traffic officer in Reddersburg, a small town in the Southern Free State,” he says. “I bought a few sheep while working as a traffic officer and rented a piece of land where I kept my livestock and saw my stock grow over many years.” He isn’t only a game farmer and still has livestock as well.
Dasheka’s Imvelo journey
It was when he was part of a group that visited the farm of President Cyril Ramaphosa a few years ago that he was inspired to become a game farmer. “Not a lot of black farmers are involved in the wildlife economy and tourism. The President challenged us to go into that. I was the first to take up that challenge.”
Dasheka, who is a member of AFASA, started his journey at Imvelo Safari in 2014 and says it certainly wasn’t easy. “When we acquired this farm from rural development, there was basically nothing here. The only building here was an old farmhouse.”
It was only after acquiring a farm that he heard that the Free State Provincial Government had a wildlife transformation program. “I applied for participation in the program and my application was approved, where after I fenced the farm for game and the game was delivered to me.”
The farm was originally leased to him for 30 years, and he decided to take the risk of investing in it despite initially not having ownership. Along the way he had to prove many naysayers wrong. He says the financial institutions who initially declined to provide funding and the government officials who did not believe in his dream now comes to him for advice.
Opportunities in wildlife industry
And even then, things didn’t just happen by itself. According to him the ingredients of being a successful game farmer is “hard work, discipline, patience and perseverance.”
Dasheka believes that if you have most of these characteristics, there are ways to make it work in the industry. “There are immense opportunities in the wildlife economy,” he says. “The industry’s opportunities are not exploited to their full potential.”
However, he emphasizes that capital is a game changer and something that makes game farming different. “It is an expensive kind of business which requires sufficient cash flow.”
When you look at Dasheka’s journey he certainly has much to be proud of, but humility is a key component. One gets the feeling that his description of the sable antelope – “very confident, yet very humble” – could apply just as well to the man himself.