As a farmer in the Free State town of Warden, Mahadi Mopeli’s life is worlds apart from her earlier days as a librarian. She no longer spends her days sorting books although, admittedly, there are many similarities between being a librarian and a farmer.
Both careers attract meek and tidy souls. Mopeli is big on structure and order too, and with her passion for detail she has been flourishing as a crop and livestock farmer. In fact, you’ll never say that she only started farming full-time in 2016.
“I took a leap of faith when I left my job (as a librarian) because I didn’t have land and I didn’t have enough money, but I knew it was something I had to do. I was passionate about farming,” she says.
Even as a librarian, she has always been farming on the side. It is 16 years now, and she also comes from a lineage of farmers on both sides of the family. “I was raised in a family of farmers. My grandfather and my grandmother, both from my mother’s side and father’s side, were cattle and crop farmers. I am also a cattle and crop farmer. I farm with goats and I have cattle and I am also a crop farmer.”
As a child, Mopeli used to follow her parents around on their farm and soaked up all the secrets, skills and love for the land. “There were a lot of flowers and vegetables on my parents’ farm. I wanted to be involved in everything and anything that involved planting. I was going up and down from a tender age.”
.”I have a mentor in the Greyling family. The Greylings really inspired me a lot. They are like my family.” – MAHADI MOPELI
Even at her home in Warden – 56km north of Harrismith – she still grows vegetables, even though she owns a 513-hectare farm called Quarriehoek. After leaving her job as a librarian she went from office to office trying to find a piece of land to farm on.
“(At the time( I did not even have a farm. I had to lease from other farmers, but I tried until the government gave me my own farm in 2019,” says Mopeli. And the journey to full-time farming certainly hasn’t been easy.
She tells Food For Mzansi, “Farming is very expensive. To get seeds will cost you a fortune and mechanisation is expensive. Now you need fertilisers, and you still have to harvest, so everything about farming needs money. Even the people that come and help you cost money.”
Being a woman in agriculture
Farming alone is not the only challenge she faces. Being a 62-year-old women in agriculture is another ball-game. “I feel that men in agriculture still undermine women. Even when you raise up your hand, they will just be sarcastic to you and put you down. But if you like something, just go for it. Don’t look behind you. Always push forward.”
She mastered the art of patience in her days as a librarian, and as a farmer she has also learnt to depend on God when faced with adversity.
“I have learnt that patience is the best medicine. You must be patient in what you are doing. You must not doubt yourself. You must carry on and the most important thing is that you must put your trust in God. Trust God in everything that you do. Just give him your problems he will solve them,” Mopeli says.
Her faith has carried her through difficult periods. “You know God has done so much for me,” she says, pausing for a moment. “The reason why I am quiet is because I’m becoming so emotional. Let’s just talk about last year. The very same year that we harvested in April, May, June, July, there was no rainfall, my dear.”
The rains eventually came, although it was late. “It did not stop, so we planted very late. But what I can tell you is that God almighty is trustworthy. One was able to harvest. One was able to put something on the table. That’s when I figured, never doubt God. God is always trustworthy.”
Mopeli is flourishing despite other personal challenges too. When she lost her husband, her three children were all younger than seven. Despite death’s sting she continued to study and make a career for herself. Setting an example for her children by going to school was important because she wanted to inspire them.
“I wanted to encourage my kids to study, so I studied. I wanted them to say, ‘Even my mom went to university and that she is a post-graduate, so why can’t I do it or even go beyond what she did?’”
“One was able to harvest. One was able to put something on the table. That’s when I figured, never doubt God. God is always trustworthy.”
Mopeli first obtained a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of the Free State while she was still working as a librarian. But she wouldn’t venture into teaching because she always wanted to become a farmer. She was inspired by the women in her birth town of Qwa-Qwa who used to farm for a living.
“Our fathers used to go to the mines and then our mothers would be left at home doing everything here. The fathers would be away for nine months and would only come back during harvest season. So, women would use farming to put food on the table and make a living,” she says.
The value of mentorship
Mopeli is also the first to acknowledge that she wouldn’t have been able to do it alone.
“I trusted God and I got encouragement. When I see other farmers farming and putting their trust in God, it keeps me going. On top of that, I have a mentor in the Greyling family. The Greylings really inspired me a lot. They are like my family.”
Her future goal is to become a commercial farmer. “I see myself as a commercial farmer who will be able to create jobs for the community, who will be able to export for business and who will be able to fulfil my needs.”
She encourages the youth to change their perspective about farming.
“I just want to advice the youth that farming is not a dirty job. Farming is everything. You get your clothes from farming, food from farming and everything we are living with is from farming. So, they must really try to change their thinking and really look at farming. Farming is everything and farming is not something that just started now. It started in the garden of Eden.”
- Mopeli is featured on the popular television show called Vir die liefde van die land. The DStv show is produced by Food For Mzansi and the VKB Group. For top inspirations from the farming community, watch the show on Thursdays at 18:00 on VIA, channel 147.