When Phathutshedzo Marvelous Madula (26) lost a four-year fight to obtain a learnership that stood between him and an engineering qualification, he thought he had lost his one chance in life.
He had to do the learnership to get the qualification from Vhembe TVET College in Northern Limpopo. Without it, he saw a future of joblessness and the loss of all hope of ever being able to change his indigent circumstances.
Madula was raised by his grandmother, a domestic worker in Ha Mandiwana, a small village with a population of 3 208 in Limpopo. Life there is rural, with urban development scarce and only a handful of people able to afford basic amenities.
Madula’s grandmother raised him and his eight siblings with her grant money and the money she earned from selling the maize from her backyard garden.
He matriculated from Dzata Secondary High School in 2013 and his grandmother, with the help of a family friend, sent him to college in 2014.
He needed to complete a learnership to graduate, but to his disappointment there were no learnerships lined up for him.
“After struggling for four years to gain a learnership – and a job for that matter – I gave up the little hope I had,” he says.
Then one day, out of the blue while taking a long stroll in his village, he was reminded of his upbringing. He remembered how happy he used to be when he would help his grandmother plant maize in her backyard garden.
“Without any reservation, I bought seedlings with the little money I had and started planting to get my mind off things,” he remembers.
“I was ashamed of it at first, thinking ‘what people will say?’. But as time went by, I fell in love with what I was doing and I got to spend more time planting.”
He bought a piece of land and the little space then turned into hectares as he planted more green pepper, tomatoes, onions, and cabbage. He invited another friend who had struggled to gain employment just like him to his farm. The friend brought his younger brother.
The farm started to expand and so did his team. He earned a substantial profit selling his vegetables to the community.
“My partner, Mpfariseni Beauty Rasimphi, who I met at Vhembe TVET College, came with the idea to venture into agro processing,” he says.
“I was baffled at the thought as we were doing okay with our farm operations. She indicated to me the need for us to diversify and it is then we established Marvel Chilli Sauce.”
‘As youth we need to change our mindset even if it means working with our hands. We need to humble ourselves because the government is not going to come to our homes and give us a job.’
Marvel Chilli Sauce was founded in 2018 and they have developed three chilli sauces, including tomato jam, fruits jam and vegetable atchaar. Madula and his team of four are selling his products all over the streets of his village.
“The demand and response for our chilli sauce has been fantastic and we are looking forward to operating our first agro-processing plant,” he says.
“We are in talks with various entities to procure us an industrial blender and a filling and capping machine.”
Although his business is growing rapidly, there are a few challenges he still needs to overcome.
“Our biggest challenge is getting our products tested by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) so they can be approved by big retailers. Also, we don’t have transport at the moment, so we have to use public transport and most of our profits end up being used for that,” he says.
Madula indicates that he has tried to acquire funding to get his products tested, but he has not received anything concrete. His future goal is to open an agro-processing factory in Gauteng as there seems to be a lot of demand for his chilli sauce there.
Youth need to change their mindset
“As youth we need to change our mindset even if it means working with our hands. We need to humble ourselves because the government is not going to come to our homes and give us a job,” he advises.
He says if it wasn’t for agriculture he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“I look back at the four years of misery, but when I come to think about it, it was worth it. Through agriculture, I realised there are plenty of opportunities. I wake up excited every day. Our farming operations have also attracted local chiefs and we have applied for more land,” he exclaims.
He believes that agriculture could help alleviate the plight of unemployment among our youth in the country and provide food security.
“Again, my story is not big, but with agriculture, we can tackle the scourge of youth unemployment. The simplicity of it is that we should not be embarrassed to start farming. The more we are the more food secure we become.”