Passion is often the most notable characteristic of a successful entrepreneur. And Kleinjan Gasekoma, owner of one of the most successful cattle farms in South Africa, has it in spades.
However, before one is met with his passion, one is struck by his humility. It’s an arresting quality, given all he has achieved since 2002 when he was allotted his share of a communal piece of land to begin his farming career. From someone who, in 2015, was named South Africa’s Cattle Farmer of the Year – the first black farmer to win this award – you’d expect this to be raised in conversation with him, but not once throughout my interview with him did he mention a word of this achievement.
Humility alone, however, did not build his farm in Bruintjiesfontein and Klein Quaggablatt, North West where 100 Braunvieh and 100 commercial cattle as well as game such as gemsbok, impala, springbok, eland are kept. A keen instinct for business, dollops of patience and a gift for farming grown in him from an early age were key to his success.
In 2006 his knowledge and flair for the industry won him a Braunvieh stud bull and a heifer at a local farming workshop during the Vryburg annual cattle show and after a long wait to move beyond the confines of communal farm life, he was given permission by government, under its recapitalisation programme to rent land in Bruintjiesfonten and Klein Quaggablatt in 2007. As part of the programme, he was assigned a mentor who’d been given the task of reinforcing and constructing key features on the farm to ensure its success. However, despite a significant amount of capital placed behind the project, little was done to ensure the farm’s growth and development.
Kleinjan’s instincts kicked in. The instant he found himself to have been wronged, he set about reporting the mismanagement and sought out a new mentor. From a list of potential mentors, Kleinjan picked out a name he’d recognised – someone he’d met before; a man he’d enjoyed a brief conversation with at the abovementioned workshop in 2006. That man, Cois Harman, would become one of Kleinjan’s closest friends and business associates.
Together Cois and Kleinjan, despite many defeats and hurdling never-ending state bureaucracies along the way, secured land that Kleinjan he could finally call his own. By 2013 Kleinjan was a man in charge of his own farming destiny. Together the two formed a formidable team. With Kleinjan’s natural nous for the industry and willingness to learn more about the industry, and Cois’s decades of commercial farming experience and full-blooded commitment to the needs of his mentee, their relationship would see Kleinjan’s farm grow to be among the most successful in the North West.
The best illustration of this particular transfer of skills from a white to a black farmer lay in Kleinjan’s implementation of Cois’s advice to never land in financial debt. To this day, Kleinjan does not owe anyone a cent and his business has been the better off for it. Furthermore, while Kleinjan is now fully independent and an industry leader in his own right, he has never reached a level of conceit that prevents him from calling Cois for advice on difficulties he faces on the farm from time to time.
Kleinjan’s gentleness of spirit can also be traced in his broader commitment to service in his community. He serves as the Chairperson of the Anti-Crime Forum in North West and is a regular contributor of alms to his local church.
His sense of community is immutable and it is perhaps why he fears what he sees as potentially tragic consequences of the government’s plan to expropriate land from white farmers without compensation. Stating when asked about the issue, “It’s not right. How could I watch land just taken away from my neighbour? There must be some sort of negotiation process. We must come to a peaceful resolution. It’s not right.”