High school buddies are black-owned auction pioneers

Athenkosi Denga and Soyama Mthongana on dreaming big in agriculture and launching the first black-owned auction service in the Eastern Cape

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Livestock farmers Athenkosi Denga and Soyama Mtongana are used to having the ground shaken beneath their feet by herds of cattle. But what these two young farmers have not adapted to is themselves being called movers and shakers in the agricultural industry.

The two ventured into agriculture when they were both only 19 years old. Today
both are 27 and are known for running the first black-owned auction service
in the Eastern Cape alongside their livestock business, Lizwe Meat.

The pair became entrepreneurs with little experience but plenty of grit and
knowledge. During their grade 11 high school year they started trading livestock
which they had earned by toiling on their respective family farms.

Denga recalls, “Both me and Soyama worked for our cattle. Like the rest of the
farm workers we would also work, but instead of receiving a monthly salary, we
were paid in cattle. One head of cattle each at the end of the year.

“Looking back on it now, we were actually being ripped off by our parents,” he

Athenkosi Denga is the co-owner of Lizwe Meat, a livestock business he started with his childhood friend. Photo: Supplied.
Athenkosi Denga is the co-owner of Lizwe Meat, a livestock business he started with his childhood friend. Photo: Supplied

Their business, Lizwe Meat, debuted in 2011. After being formalised in 2015 it
today takes up about 600 hectares of rented farmland grazed by livestock in Peddie
in the Eastern Cape.

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According to Mtongana both of them share a passion for farming and have over
time developed a strong relationship.

Their families have known each other for years and they became close friends.
Both their fathers and grandfathers were seasoned livestock farmers from the
former Transkei area.

“We started this partnership based on trust, shared farming values and knowing
what each of us are capable of. I could say our partnership was an effortless
union,” Mtongana declares.

Age and other agri challenges

While their journey into agriculture might have been a smooth entry, more recently
the farming duo faced a huge challenge. This was when, in 2019, their audacious
hearts and unrelenting spirits saw them launching the auction service.

The service is mainly focussed on new and smallholder farmers but includes
commercial farmers as well. The auctions held in the former Transkei give new
farmers access to the real market price and multiple buyers from different areas.
This eliminates the chance of being exploited by chancers.

But launching the new wing of Lizwe Meat was no easy feat and there were many
times when Denga and Mtongana had to work extra hard to keep things going.

“Firstly,” Denga exclaims, “People looked at us and said, so you guys are this
young and you want to hold an auction? What do you know about auctions? Very few people believed that we could actually pull it off.”

Transportation was another challenge. Many of the new and smallholder farmers
did not have the financial means to transport their livestock to the auction events.
Some truckers charged exorbitant amounts per kilometre and it was just too
expensive for them.

“The smaller farmers would sell their cattle at the auctions, only for half of their
earnings to go to transport. We then decided to subsidise some of their transport
costs,” Denga says.

Some farmers also did not understand what an auction was and how it is done, so
the two farming entrepreneurs had to first educate them.

‘Very few people believed that we could actually pull it off.’

Recalling their first auction, Mtongana remembers the excessive nerves both of
them experienced days before the event.

“Oh, my word,” he yells. “The nerves were just too much – you don’t sleep, hey.

“The three days before the auction I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t know what was
going to happen. We just had to have faith in the work that was put in and hope for
the best.”

These challenges almost derailed their auction endeavour, but together
they pushed past the bad patches. They learnt a lot from the experience.
Denga’s advice to entrepreneurs and farmers is to, “make decisions with their
vision in mind and not only with the (immediate) problem in front of them. It
sounds simple, but it’s hard.”

The world’s next billionaires

Denga runs the administration side of the business and meets clients and buyers,
while also being responsible for the overall operations of their business. Mtongana, on the other hand, oversees all marketing-related initiatives and makes sure that all runs smoothly with their auction events.

Soyama Mtongana believes that agriculture is the breeding ground for the world's next billionaires. Photo: Supplied.
Soyama Mtongana believes that agriculture is the breeding ground for the world’s next billionaires. Photo: Supplied

Neither farmer has formal education in agriculture, but they are doing it and doing it very well. Denga holds a degree in administration and Mtongana in
marketing and accounting.

For Denga and Mtongana their mission in agriculture has over time become as clear as a crystal. They are set on challenging age-old farming perspectives.

“When a black person enters the sector there is no faith in that person. Anyone who follows behind us can see that it is possible, and they should not limit themselves,” Mtongana exclaims.

He adds, “youth in agriculture need to understand that agriculture is the breeding ground, not just for Africa, but for the world’s next billionaires. Food security is starting to be a worldwide problem, so the world needs them.

“Denga and I know what we want. We are not going around trying and buying anything or everything. We’re sticking to our plan which we believe will develop us in the near future.”

For now, the duo will continue to firmly grab and maximize every opportunity at their disposal and in line with their vision.

Five years from now, they say, they will be a household name in the beef farming
industry within the Eastern Cape province.

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