MANDELA DAY: ‘I see the late Madiba in our farmers’

Zelda la Grange, an author, television host and former personal assistant to Nelson Mandela, says she still sees the late Madiba in South Africa's farmers. Jon Hrusa/EPA

The internationally renowned author, television host and former personal assistant to Nelson Mandela, Zelda la Grange, says she is, once again, reminded on Mandela Day of the late statesman’s big heart for farmers.

La Grange spoke to Food For Mzansi moments before she embarked on yet another outreach project to volunteer her 67 minutes on the annual celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. She played an instrumental role in the establishment of Mandela Day, which was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009.

“I see Madiba in our farmers. I see it in how they tackle each new day with perseverance and dedication despite all the elements. Remember, he was a farmer himself. He showed compassion to those who cultivated the land.”

La Grange’s memoir, Good Morning, Mr Mandela, remains an international best-seller after it was translated in 10 languages and distributed in 15 countries. Bill Clinton, a former US president, previously described La Grange as “a trusted member of Madiba’s inner circle” after she served him for 19 years.

In Madiba’s own memoir, A Long Walk To Freedom, he also speaks about his love for farming. “I was no more than five when I became a herd-boy, looking after sheep and calves in the fields. I discovered the almost mystical attachment that the Xhosa have for cattle, not only as a source of food and wealth, but as a blessing from God and a source of happiness.”

Meanwhile South Africans are already busy with community projects to celebrate their 67 minutes – the first time during a pandemic. This includes Food For Mzansi’s own Power Talk on how agriculture can move South Africa forward by using the values the Nobel laureate was known for. This live Facebook event was hosted by journalists Dawn Noemdoe and Duncan Masiwa. Guests included Koos van Rensburg from the VKB Group, Standard Bank’s Keneilwe Nailana and Rev. Earl Richards from the Step-up Foundation.

Christo van der Rheede, the deputy executive director of Agri SA. Photo: Supplied

Mandela was the embodiment of transformation, says Christo van der Rheede, the deputy executive director of Agri SA. He admires Madiba so much that he still has a portrait of the former president hanging in his office.

The world has big shoes to fill following the big legacy left by Madiba, Van Der Rheede says. “He was a nation-builder, pragmatist, realist and a visionary. These are the attributes that he has left behind and that we, as South Africans, must live up to. It is important that we personify Madiba’s attributes in our relationships with each other daily.”

Within agriculture it becomes even more important to emulate his warmth, love for the people and also his principal stance against the unfair treatment of others. – Christo van der Rheede

Founder of Future Farmers Judy Stuart agrees. Since Mzansi’s transition from apartheid to democracy no task was impossible for Mandela. “He took agriculture very seriously. The importance of agriculture was highlighted during the period where we were very privileged to have him as president.”

Madiba instrumental in agricultural master plan

Dr John Purchase, the CEO of Agbiz. Photo: Supplied

Agbiz CEO Dr John Purchase says, his organisation has major respect for what Madiba has done for the country. “Agbiz has immense regard for Madiba’s powerful and moral leadership in South Africa’s peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy. We need to revisit his legacy and leadership as South Africa has wandered from direction and example he set, and with dire consequences.”

Madiba’s legacy in agriculture goes back a long way, adds Dawie Maree, who heads up communications and marketing at FNB Agriculture. He recalls that it was under Madiba’s presidency that the agricultural sectoral plan in collaboration with Thoko Didiza and organised agriculture was established in Didiza’s initial term as minister of agriculture. “That master plan was the first collaborative effort between organised agriculture, farmers and the workers in a democratic South Africa.”

Meanwhile the covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore Madiba’s giving nature in many South Africans, Maree adds. Farmers, especially, did not think twice about lending a hand to struggling communities. “I think that is actually part of the legacy that Mandela left us to help each other.”

Dewald Olivier, chief executive of the South African Feedlot Association. Photo: Supplied

Dewald Olivier, the chief executive of the South African Feedlot Association, believes Madiba Day remains an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Tata Madiba’s inputs in the agricultural sector. “Through continuous training and upliftment programs for all South African farmers the final objective will be achieving Mr Mandela’s dream of a better life for all. May we all strive to make cattle farming in South Africa a living legacy to Madiba.”

In 1994, having just taken the reigns of our new democracy, Mandela was quoted as saying, “Our principal goal is a better life for all South Africans: black and white, farmer and farm worker.”

Three years later, whilst addressing the South African Agricultural Union’s congress in KwaZulu-Natal, Madiba described the land as the heart of division and conflict in South Africa for generations. “For centuries, agriculture has been divided into rich and poor, into a minority that could count on state support and those who were forced to fend for themselves.”

Madiba’s gift of education to the youth

Under Madiba’s presidency South Africa emerged as a democratic country that saw many changes, especially in the agricultural sector, adds Maree. “We have lapsed a bit. The sector has its challenges in terms of transformation, but they have actually begun making headway again.”

Tumelo Olifant is a Bonsmara farmer in North West. Photo: Supplied

Despite 26 years of democracy, however, the land still remains a major burning point, says Tumelo Olifant (30). He farms alongside his father, Kgopolang, on the communal lands of Schaleng village in North West.

It is up to the youth to secure their future through Madiba’s call for education. – Tumelo Olifant

Olifant says, “We are trying, and we are fighting to empower the next generation. Not necessarily for generational wealth, but we want everybody to have a stake in it. It is really upon us, as the youth, to help each other and grow each other.”

We must remember Madiba’s words, especially on this day. “Young people are the future and must take it upon themselves to ensure they receive the highest education possible so that they can represent us well in the future. That simply implies that all youth that has graduated and are struggling, it is upon you to change South Africa through innovative thinking and make it a rainbow nation.”