Growing up in the village of Ga-Mokgopo in Limpopo, Keneilwe Raphesu (23) had always loved the adventure in rural living. There was a sense of freedom that she clung on to even after she moved closer to Johannesburg at age nine.
Raphesu recalls spending hours watching her grandparents, Moses and Theledi Maile, tend to their land in the farming community.
They came from a generation of farmers and passed down their own skills to her father, former Limpopo University lecturer Dr Mamabolo Raphesu.
As the youngest of four children, Raphesu, who is now a young farmer in her own right, would often mimic her father’s every move.
She even swopped academia for farming, just like her father did, even swopping her own academic pursuits to farm like him.
Together, the duo farm on land leased from government in Holfontein, 90 kilometres from the North West hub of Potchefstroom.
“He (dad) taught me everything,” she says. “Having the urge to learn more about agriculture was where my inspiration to farm grew. I just started loving farming and decided I might as well go ahead and join my father.”
“Agriculture is a life-force in our communities. you can see a doctor every month, but you eat three times a day and that is all because of a farmer.”
Today, the young farmer takes the reins as second in command of Mogalemone farm, a 405-hectare mixed farming enterprise home to cattle, pigs and hundreds of hectares of soya beans, yellow and white maize meal.
She admits that she never imagined she would take on the role of farmer. Instead, she set her sights upon corporate South Africa.
“I wanted to become an economist and probably work for the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). It is still a dream but with a different scenery, a dream I just continued on the farm,” she says.
‘Why aren’t you young and farming?’
After matriculating from the Suncrest High School in 2015, Raphesu went on to graduate from the North West University in 2019. She is currently pursuing a second degree in behavioural science and labour relations.
While she continues her studies she has, like her father, swopped the classroom for the fields.
Despite being one of the toughest and most demanding industries, Raphesu says agriculture is no doubt one of the best career paths to take if you are looking to reach for the stars of excellence.
“Agriculture is a life-force in our communities. You can see a doctor every month, but you eat three times a day and that is all because of a farmer,” she says proudly.
Raphesu believes that agriculture is multifaceted and holds the key to unlocking infinite opportunities for youth to grow. Despite its power to stimulate growth, the sector remains one of the most undermined, especially amongst youth.
“There is this stigma that it is for men, and that women hardly do well in the sector. People believe agriculture is for people who are not educated.
“As a woman of colour, not everyone believes you can manage a farm or even build an enterprise on your own. For me, agriculture is not about only proving a point, but also about creating employment.
“We encourage learners to become doctors and lawyers, why can’t we encourage them to become farmers?”
“Agriculture is much more than proving a point that women can farm.”
She acknowledges that young starter farmers face a huge battle in in acquiring land.
“If we are going to encourage them to become farmers let us work towards giving them something, let us empower them and encourage them to join us in building food security,” she says.
The world is your oyster
When you become a farmer, the world is your proverbial oyster. “You become the manager, you become the worker, you become the vet, you become the scientist.”
There will always be naysayers who doubt the skills of women in agriculture, Raphesu says.
“Agriculture is much more than proving a point that women can farm.
“You get undermined, and you also have to go above and beyond to prove yourself. There is always a stigma associated with women in agriculture, people believe because I am a woman, I can’t do it. We also have the abilities and the capabilities to do it. So, why not?
Never allow yourself to become discouraged or unmotivated by doubters, “As long as you know what you want in life, you are unstoppable.
“You cannot say the name Keneilwe Raphesu without the three P’s in mind: persistence, patience and passion. You need to be focused; you need to be disciplined. I farm because it is my passion, not because it is a trend or a hobby, it is something I want to expand not only for me but also those who will come after me.”
You can never learn to much about agriculture, Raphesu believes. She advises up-and-coming young farmers to grab hold of all learning opportunities when they avail themselves.
“Work with the little that you have, be empowered and be willing to learn. We cannot start from the top, you start from the bottom and work your way up.
“Each and every step you can take, each teachable moment, whether it is on social media or short courses, whatever, you can use it, it is an opportunity. It will open gates for you some way or somehow,” she says.
Raphesu’s 5 farming laws
- Allow yourself the opportunity to fail. For someone who did not study agriculture, I failed a lot, because there were certain things that I did not even know. I was afraid of livestock! When you allow yourself the opportunity to fail, you will not feel like a failure, you will have the urge to learn and add more knowledge and to make things right.
- Let passion be your driver. If you are passionate about livestock, grow that livestock. If you are passionate about planting, grow plants.
- Be realistic, set your goals and work towards your breakthrough or the profit you want to reach. Be realistic of what you have. We are facing tough times economically, there are certain things you will not have access to and need to make do without.
- Work with what you have. Not everyone has land, use the little you have to reach for your goals.
- Do not stop wanting to excel. No matter how difficult it is, make sure that you excel and be persistent with what you do.