It is no secret that 2020 was a year of doubt, discouragement and disillusionment. We enter a new year, but the reality is that the only thing certain about 2021 is uncertainty itself. In times like this, it can be tempting to see only adversity and darkness. Yet our nation’s agriculturists continue inspiring us with stories of achievement.
Their journeys aren’t easy, though. They face great rejection. They suffer the brunt of nature. They have to shatter glass ceilings and, like many of us, face burnout and everything in between. Despite this they find ways to survive, thrive and overcome, proving that we can too. #TeamFoodForMzansi share some of their fave stories.
1. Turning rejection into redirection
Phathutshedzo Madula lost a four-year fight to obtain a learnership that stood between him and an engineering qualification. Without it, he saw a future of joblessness after being raised by his grandmother, a domestic worker in Limpopo. It took him another four years to change his destiny through his own chill sauce business.
This article is recommended by sales and marketing intern Joën Cornelissen. He says, “It touched me because it resembled my own life. Growing up in a struggling household, not being able to pay for studies, taking massive dips in life. And then finding that I can do everything myself when I eventually was able to pay for my own studies, get a job and work through college. Through adversity I gained experience and found my passion in life, leading to a path where I can create a brighter future.”
2. On seeing with other senses
When you visit Vuyo Tsika at his home in Delft on the outskirts of Cape Town, he’ll tell you the painful story of how he lost his eyesight, taxi business and home. Yet, he rose stronger and more determined every time. Losing what he cherished the most could have been enough to keep him down, but he refused to wallow in self-pity. Instead, he created a thriving vegetable garden feeding his community.
This article is recommended by journalist Duncan Masiwa. “I have told many stories in 2020, but somehow the story of a 72-year-old township gardener stuck with me. He lost it all: his sight due to an eye infection followed by his business and home. Despite these tragedies, he rose up and found joy in a vegetable garden. I believe there’s a lesson for all of us in his story. No matter what tries to knock you down, do not let it steal your joy or hope for a better tomorrow. Get back up again and keep going.”
3. Finally, embracing what is natural
For centuries, natural hair has been tangled with issues of race and politics labelling black coils as “untidy” and “unruly.”
It was no surprise then when, in 2020, controversy surrounded a pharmacy accused of labelling black hair as dry and damaged. Yet there are natural hair warriors who are producing their own natural oils and butters to help a new generation of natural hair revolutionaries tackle age-old standards of beauty.
This article is recommended by journalist Noluthando Ngcakani. She says, “If anything, 2020 has shown me the strength and resilience of the agricultural sector. From the labourers working tirelessly to the amazing agro-processors who continue achieve the unimaginable. Their resilience leaves me in awe.
“A story that has impacted me, though, is the story of not one, but three women on a mission to change the perception of black hair politics. Three natural hair entrepreneurs, Liezl Katzen from Curl Chemistry, Liz Letsoalo from Masodi Organics and Sanelisiwe Igboangugo from Afro Sundae, are the champions of the hair revolution in my books. Being a black woman myself, I have also found myself policed by outrageous standards of beauty. I learnt that true beauty lies in going against what is widely perceived as “normal” beauty. And these women looks to the earth for their hair care needs.”
4. Young farmers taking up space
You’d be a fool to believe that farming is exclusively an old boys’ club. In 2020, young farmers really rose to the occasion, proudly taking up space in the wonderful world of agriculture.
Take Mosesi Mosesi, for example. Three years ago he was jobless and hopeless, but today he’s a township aquaponics pioneer.
Then there’s Grain SA economist Ikageng Maluleke who continues to break the glass ceiling after completing her Master’s degree in agricultural economics. And, of course, the Free State farming buddies, Buzwe Pama, Pieter van Heerden and Buchule Jack, who breaks stereotypes through their inspirational partnership.
Dawn Noemdoe, Food For Mzansi’s editor: audience and engagement, recommends these articles.
She says, “Despite the covid-19 pandemic we published hundreds of stories of hope, resilience and perseverance. Let’s face it, 2020 was a traumatic year. The best and only way to move on is to keep pushing forward, and my top stories pick remind me of that. Don’t dwell on what’s impossible.
“Focus on the now and forward planning. Mosesi inspires me because he really went from zero to a hundred and he has never looked back. His humble nature and willingness to learn and grow daily is inspiring and motivating.
“I’m also a big supporter of Maluleke. Yes, I’m a sucker for articles about women breaking stereotypes. Also, the farming “brothers” inspire me. I believe in the power of agriculture to create social cohesion and reading their story proves it.”
5. From write-off to global exporter
Sometimes the road to success is filled with many U-turns. Just ask Uzair Essack who saw his peers graduate three years before him.
Many wrote him off, but today owns a multi-award-winning export company. Instead of finding a corporate job after graduation, he took what seemed like the more risky route. He followed his first love and, like his father, he ventured into the entrepreneurial sphere.
This article is recommended by journalist Sinesipho Tom. She says, “Essack started off as a bright young boy with a bright future ahead of him. When he enrolled at the University of Cape Town, however, he ended up in with the wrong crowd.
“He failed some modules and fell behind. Many people wrote him off and marked him as a failure, but he turned his life around. Today, he is an award-winning businessman and was named one of Forbes Africa’s 30 under 30 leaders in 2020. His story showed me that failure is never final. You can always get up despite what anyone says.”
6. Making sense of the covid-19 madness
We honestly didn’t see it coming. There we were, like the rest of Mzansi, confined to our homes in the wake of the covid-19 lockdown. Despite our own fears, we had an immense duty to keep our readers updated about the pandemic.
Today, it is exactly 281 days later – and our special covid-19 project called Thandi and Captain Stay Safe is just as relevant. We won a global award for it, and it’s known as South Africa’s first covid-19 podcast to help children and their parents deal with uncertainty during the long-drawn-out coronavirus pandemic.
Food For Mzansi co-founder Kobus Louwrens says, “Thandi and Captain Stay Safe took the form of a short podcast series and a series of downloadable comics sharing potentially life-saving safety and information.
“This information is now as relevant as the day we first published it, with a brutal second wave of the pandemic claiming loved ones and creating an atmosphere of fear that we need to help our kids make sense of. The comic is still available in all 11 official languages. If you’re downloading the podcast, listen out for members of our team making their amateur voice acting debut in the first two episodes of the podcast, which we recorded via WhatsApp voice notes during the very first lockdown.”
7. A land of hope and promise
Sometimes South Africa can break your heart. The politics get messy, and if we aren’t careful, there’s a risk of falling for the ugliness seen on social media. If you are brave enough to step away from your cell phone, though, you’ll find countless heart-warming stories in the agricultural sector.
From grain farmer Alfreda Mars who is cheered on by her neighbouring farmers to Wessel Bibbey and his wife, Estie, who mentors young graduates on their own farm. These farmers were also featured on Vir die liefde van die land, an exciting television series presented by VKB and Food For Mzansi on VIA, DStv channel 147.
Food For Mzansi co-founder Ivor Price says, “Co-host Piet Potgieter and I feel quite honoured to have shared these and many other stories with the nation. It’s a tough call, but I can never forget Samson Mahlaba, who worked as a labourer for 50 years before finally realising his dream to farm.
“He’s such a soft-spoken, gentle giant and I am grateful for the many lessons learnt, also away from the cameras. I was particularly touched by Mahlaba’s endearing relationship with his mentor, Coenraad Fick. They come from different worlds, and yet they cultivate the land together with love.”