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Is this farmer our next Mr South Africa?

Eastern Cape farmer and part-time model Sinethemba Dleke is in the running to become this year's Mr South Africa. He says the qualities that make him successful in agriculture are serving him well in the tough competition.

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At Food For Mzansi we believe that every farmer deserves to be crowned Mr or Miss South Africa. So, imagine our excitement when we learnt that one of the nation’s farmers is actually in the running to become the next Mr South Africa.

Eastern Cape farmer Sinethemba Dleke (30) currently ranks 31st in the top 50 for the competition. Like the other contestants, he is busy completing challenges and campaigning for votes from the public to climb the rankings. Another ten men is to be eliminated when the top 40 is announced on 1 July.

The Butterworth-born Dleke says to claim the coveted throne will require humility, compassion and integrity, which he believes are also the attributes that are essential to be a successful farmer in Mzansi.

aspiring Mr. South Africa
Sinethemba Dleke (30) is the proud owner of SD Farmlink, a vegetable and poultry enterprise in Flagstaff, Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“Who says good things do not come from villages and small towns like Butterworth? Mr South Africa will be an opportunity for me to market my business and my mission to inspire and influence other black children with dreams to be unapologetic about making their dreams a reality,” he says.

The part-time model runs his farming operation, SD Farmlink, on a 15-hectare farm in Flagstaff. He produces vegetables, including potatoes, spinach, cabbage and green peppers.

How it all began…

While he considers himself a full-time farmer, Dleke also moonlights as a model on the weekends. He has previously claimed several pageant titles in the province, including Mr Love Life 2007, Mr Siyakhana 2006 and Mr Teen East London 2010.

“I just wanted to do something to make a living, but then I started to fall in love with farming and exploring this gap.”

“I started modelling in school when I was doing grade 7. My passion just grew from there and I started entering local competitions. Modelling is a part-time thing that I do on the weekends.”

SD Farmlink has since expanded into a stokvel which aids empowerment, job creation and supplies produce to Zama Zama, the biggest local wholesaler in Flagstaff, as well as Spar and the hospitality industry.

ALSO READ: Miss SA talks food memories and farmer appreciation

A true son of the soil

Born to a family of agriculturalists, Dleke admits that he never thought he would farm.

“My grandfather was an agricultural specialist, so we would practice different farming methods at home. We had a lot of pigs, a lot of chickens; at the time it was just a part of my childhood.”

The long road to success

After he matriculated from Ndabankulu Senior Secondary School in Butterworth, he pursued a career in marketing, graduating from the IQ Academy in 2016.

He worked in sales for Avbob and later as a realtor for Pam Golding. In 2018, he found himself at an impasse, turning to farming while he was in-between jobs.

“I just wanted to do something to make a living, but then I started to fall in love with farming and exploring this gap.”

He believes the youth are crucial to the advancement of agriculture.

“We need more young farmers. The agricultural sector is dependent on skills transfer. When I started, I had no mentor. I started attending courses and read all of the manuals and e-books, and that helped me develop and grow as a farmer.”

With his marketing experience, he aims to educate struggling small-scale farmers with basic training in this field. Marketing is as important as production, he says.

“Believe it or not, there is a corporate side of farming, it is not just all about producing.”

ALSO READ: Game farmer and actor juggles two demanding roles

The future of farming stokvels

Meanwhile, Dleke believes the future of farming lies in stokvels. SD Farmlink offers a variety of farming packages for youth who are considering a career as a farmer.

“The stokvel makes use of a crowd-farming method where we assist aspiring farmers in opening their own small projects and then we mentor them.

“Young, black South Africans can achieve anything if they apply themselves and commit to this industry.”

“The stokvel is for poultry, crop farming and livestock as well. It is for those who say we don’t have time to farm by ourselves and maybe don’t have the skills or resources to do it.

“We do have a stokvel where we say, even us, we need some resources and funds to utilise the space because it is quite expensive to do farming.”

Importance of mentorship

Living in a remote town with very limited resources often hampers the progress of his business, the farmer and model admits. He firmly believes that if began his business with a mentor by his side, it would have been easier to overcome challenges.

“Everything was a challenge. I have a river passing through the farm, but getting water from there is a mission. Without water it is difficult to do production, it is difficult to irrigate. Water is just a necessity.

“You need someone who will give you direction.”

“Transport is often an issue too. I live 20 kilometres from town, so if you want to sell 10 bags of potatoes you are going to need transport. When you calculate that cost you realise that you are operating at a loss, it takes R20 to get to town and R20 to return to the farm, then you sell a bag of potatoes for R45 or R50.”

Tips for beginner farmers

A farmer with the right mentorship and a dream is an unstoppable force, says the aspiring Mr South Africa.

“Young, black South Africans can achieve anything if they apply themselves and commit to this industry. Crowd-source money and start a cooperative; grow each other. Cooperatives are getting a lot of attention from the funding institutions but there are few youth cooperatives.”

His advice to young people who are considering the farmer’s journey is to “vuka’uzenzele” (“take the leap”).

“We cannot all be employed [by others]. We cannot all have a job or be exposed to resources. Some of us need to start on our own thing.

“If you have a vision, you can execute it when you put your mind to it. Just start whatever dream or goal that you have. Just start, work from it, grow from it. Don’t be afraid to fail, fail and learn from your mistakes and move on.”

ALSO READ: ‘I let my work do the talking’, says 22-year-old farm manager

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Noluthando Ngcakani
Noluthando Ngcakani
With roots in the Northern Cape, this Kimberley Diamond has had a passion for telling human interest stories since she could speak her first words. A foodie by heart, she began her journalistic career as an intern at the SABC where she discovered her love for telling agricultural, community and nature related stories. Not a stranger to a challenge Ngcakani will go above and beyond to tell your truth.
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