Nsika Shabalala (31) has always been a bit of a shy one. As the second of three brothers, he took on the role as the more reserved brother. But working in agriculture has given him more confidence. “When you’re a farm manager, there’s no time to be shy,” he says.
His office is a 4500-hectare farm called Afrikan Farms, situated in Amersfoort, about two hours from Johannesburg.
The farm’s activities include sheep rearing for meat, experimental pig farming, beef cattle farming and a cattle feedlot, which Shabalala closely manages. Their beef production includes Beefmaster, Symons bulls and Brahman crosses.
They also produce maize and soya beans together with BB Boerdery Agri Trust and have recently started planting Crisp Red apples.
Shabalala’s journey at the farm started about ten years ago when he moved to Mpumalanga to live with his uncle.
As he recalls, it all happened after his parents passed away and he had to move to his “uMalume” (uncle), Vusi Khanyile, owner and founder of Afrikan Farms. “When my parents passed it was decided that me and my brothers had to live with different relatives. The eldest moved to Johannesburg and the youngest moved to Kwazulu-Natal.”
Although it was difficult at first, Shabalala believes that being separated from his brothers had a beautiful purpose. “I had to quickly learn how to grow up and be a man,” he explains.
Growing up in the township of Mooi River in KZN, the brothers were surrounded by criminal activities. “We were lucky to make it out of there. Many young people end up being stuck there,” Shabalala says.
When Shabalala moved in with his uncle, he was about to enter high school. He attended Sinethemba Secondary. Despite not understanding why he had to attend an agricultural school, Shabalala decided not to question his uncle’s decision to enrol him there.
“We were taught not to question our elders, so technically I had no say in the matter,” he laughs.
Looking back, Shabalala says he can now see that his uncle was busy investing in him and that it was always his plan for him work on Afrikan Farms. “I was an average student at school, but uMalume kept on believing in me.”
After graduating from Cedara Agriculture college in 2010, Shabalala joined the farm as assistant farm manager and had his work cut out for him. “When I started at the farm there were very few systems in place and most of the people that worked there had experience. However, they lacked in scientific knowledge.”
Shabalala majored in beef production and since his joining, the farm has seen tremendous growth. Today, Afrikan farms has a herd of 2000 Beefmaster-type beef cattle which includes 1200 breeding cows and a feedlot that can manage 400 cattle at a time.
“We started implementing controlled breeding seasons, initiated necessary vaccinations programs and did routine disease checks,” the farm manager says.
The results of his hard work started showing, because in 2018 the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) awarded Afrikan Farms the National Commercial Beef Producer of The Year Award.
“When I studied at Cedara College of Agriculture, I realized that there can be success in farming if it is managed properly and treated as a business,” Shabalala says.
Farming has given him a new perspective on life. As children, the brothers would simply visit the farm to have fun and play with the horses, but now he’s contributing to the farm’s success.
While having a role in Afrikan Farms’ success, Shabalala attributes his success in farming to his uncle.
“uMalume took the responsibility of raising me as his own and he’s invested a lot in me. I want to honour his dedication to my family and making me believe that I could have a bright future in agriculture.”
Every day Shabalala goes out into the fields to tend to the cattle and monitor their well-being. “I am happy in agriculture. My journey in farming has been a journey of love, hope and patience.”