Born and raised in Rustenberg in North West, Katlego Ngwane (33) dreamed of being a lawyer as a little girl. Law runs in her blood, with her mother also being an attorney, but her inspiration came from an unlikely place.
“Remember Hansie Cronje’s case? He was caught for cheating and the case was televised? I remember the prosecutor was [Shamila] Batohi, our current head of national prosecution,” she recalls.
“And I remember looking at her on TV. I was very young, but I remember being very inspired and saying to my mom ‘One day, I’m going to be that lady. I’m going to be a lawyer’.
“So, from very young, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was inspired by Batohi because she looked so powerful and eloquent and strong.”
After matric, Ngwane decided to take a gap year to travel. She changed her mind soon after, but by then it was already too late to apply to a traditional university, so she joined the distance learning University of South Africa (UNISA) instead.
Journey into agriculture
Agricultural law was not exactly where Ngwane pictured herself going as a young girl. Her initial foray into the sector was at the behest of a family friend in the Western Cape.
“I had just had my child at the time, and a family friend who is an attorney here in Paarl called me and just said, ‘would you be interested in helping us out?’”
She started providing consultations around water rights, and eventually ended up spending more time in the Western Cape than she was in Johannesburg, where she was living at the time.
“There was a need for it, to really be specific with water rights. Not that it’s complicated, but it’s challenging because the government now wants water to effectively be nationalised,” she explains.
“So, there’s a lot of restrictions and regulatory compliance that one must apply that is not what it used to be. And that’s difficult for farmers because they are used to it a certain way. Now it’s completely changed. It sort of went from there and it got more and more busy.”
Ngwane says that her passion for agricultural law was ignited through her contact with farmers. She says that, once you’ve met one farmer, you start to realise the huge role farmers play in the country.
“You realise how important their work is, because it is one of the industries that we all use in the world in terms of our own sustainability and survival,” she says.
“So, I developed such a huge respect for farmers and what they do and that sort of pushed me to think ‘you know what? I want to be part of this because this is a need, it’s not a want, it’s not a luxury’. So, I became passionate. Their passion became my passion.”
Rolling with the pandemic punches
Just before the Covid-19 pandemic started, Ngwane’s consultation firm, Katika Consulting, was doing great. She had moved to the Western Cape by then and had a healthy roster of clients. The pandemic, however, taught her not to put all her consulting eggs in one agri-basket. Her clients were all in the wine industry, and when lockdown occurred, their businesses all shut down, which in turn shut hers down.
“That was the lesson. Like ‘Hey. Wake-up call. Your business is too concentrated in the wine industry. Why are you not doing citrus and apple and tomato?’. Because it’s not that different. I am not a wine specialist; I am an agricultural specialist.”
Ngwane, despite being a lawyer, has a rather entrepreneurial spirit. Living in the Western Cape, she has access to dozens of wine farmers, but the Western Cape is just one corner of the country. Every province in South Africa is covered with agricultural enterprises and she needed to figure out how to reach them.
“Then I thought, ‘why not a podcast?’. So I just tried it. I just started during lockdown and it worked. I now have clients in KZN. It also opened up Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape [for me].”
Agricultural law can get complicated. Ngwane says, to be successful in the field, you need to be flexible and creative.
“In law, there’s a saying – There are two types of lawyers: rainmakers and farmers. Farmers are the guys that sit in the office. They are really great with admin, they write good contracts, but they can’t talk. You never send them to clients.
“Then you get rainmakers that can talk. And are dynamic and creative and come up with solutions.
“In this type of job, you cannot be a farmer. You have to be a rainmaker.”