Growing up in the cultural heartland of Mpumalanga – Siyabuswa – surrounded by indigenous, South African grains and crops, Nontsikelelo Kwezi envisioned life as a farmer. It was the promise of peace and minimalism that attracted her.
Today, she farms more than 1000 km away from her birthplace, on an eight-hectare piece of land in Centane, in the Eastern Cape. There, Kwezi cultivates cabbage, spinach, onion, beetroot, and potatoes. She also has orange, lemon, and guava trees.
Agriculture, she admits wasn’t always her choice. Kwezi had an interest in becoming a pilot. In fact, at one point she was presented with an opportunity to join the air force to pursue this dream. However, her father refused to sign the necessary papers.
“My father told me that he doesn’t want to imagine receiving the news that I was on duty and died in an air crash.”
That was the end of her dreams of life in a cockpit.
Following her calling
Instead, she pursued a career in communications, something more grounded and that carried her father’s approval. Kwezi worked in the communication technology sector for about eight years before deciding to quit in September 2020 to do what she was called for – farming.
Her journey began with planting potatoes and maize. She did this on land her father acquired in Eastern Cape.
“My father was a great source of encouragement throughout my journey. He repeatedly mentioned that if I ever had an interest in farming, he would be willing to help,” she explains.
Today, Nyathiziyalima farming co-op of which Kwezi is the director, makes access to food for rural residents a lot simpler.
Lightening the burden
Kwezi explains that farming is extremely necessary in rural areas. She mentions that many people travel up to 140 kilometres from their residences solely to purchase vegetables.
“Poverty is a prevalent issue among the majority of people residing in rural areas. At the same time, they require both farm and earn some money. sadly, in the field of farming, one begins their journey without any initial earnings.
“There has been positive feedback, ever since we started. We ensure that the food we sell is affordable for everyone.”
Kwezi’s clientele mainly consists of people in surrounding areas. She maintains positive relationships with street vendors in both Butterworth and Centane. The Nyathiziyalima farming co-op also supplies its goods to Boxer Super Store in Centane and Kwikspar in Butterworth.
“Another prominent source of support is from people receiving SASSA grants. During those specific dates, we conduct sales and occasionally offer credits to customers. Payment is collected after they have received their grants,” she says.
Hiccups along the way
Kwezi says she needs a proper irrigation system as they manually water the plants. When using spray nozzles, water sometimes flows in a single direction due to the region’s high wind speed, she says.
“Manual watering is a stressful process, and it can take up to five hours to complete the entire process.”
Sometimes she runs into trouble with her markets as well. “Occasionally, you will be informed that someone else is delivering these products even though you were also supposed to. It is very difficult to have a foot to stand on without a written agreement.”
This is why she prefers street vendors. When rejected by supermarkets, they turn to informal stores as well as street vendors.
“Market is the most difficult issue. In my experience, it would be easier to budget for fencing and other agricultural requirements if the markets were more stable.”
Despite these challenges, Kwezi is happy and has found peace in farming. To her, farming is a way of life, and it is a life she would choose over and over again.
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