Under the dusty skies of the Free State, lies a farm filled with fond memories. It is run by one of the most formidable forces in the province’s farming community. Standing there in a pair of skinny jeans, platform sneakers and a peaked cap, Stinie du Plessis appears to be unassuming, but looks are often deceiving.
In 2013, Du Plessis and her husband, Jannie, were attacked on their farm in the Villiers district. Her husband passed away as a result, and she became the head of the livestock farm.
Robbers broke into the farm and attacked the couple in their bedroom, shooting Jannie in the stomach. The couple were locked in their safe for several hours before they were rescued. Jannie was left with heavy internal bleeding before succumbing to his injuries in hospital.
“We’ve had to step up security after the incident,” she tells Food For Mzansi.
“I’ve been more paranoid since it happened. It was very traumatising. Look at all the security we have surrounding the house, guards walking around at night and all the cameras,” she adds with a sweeping gesture. “I don’t like living like this, but what’s the alternative?”
When government fails…
She describes how the Free State’s community of farmers has banded together to ensure both the safety and best interests of the community.
“Sometimes the government fails. The municipality fails. There’s no one else who will come to the aid of farmers except other farmers. We have a sense of community, always visiting back and forth between our farms, and we look out for one another.
“Take the repairing of the roads, for example. The roads in the Free State are terrible, and farmers banded together and pooled their own funds to fix the roads up. They used their own money,” she says.
“It shouldn’t really fall on the farmers to make sure the roads in the district are usable, but it did. Fixing the roads benefits everyone that uses them, and [it is] just a small example of how farmers look out for one another.”
‘The farm life is all I know’
She adds that the farming community has also been supportive since she had taken over farming operations in the wake of her husband’s murder.
“It was quite daunting in the beginning,” she admits.
“When he was here, I didn’t have anything to do with the operation of the farm. When he was gone, I understood why he was always so busy. It’s not easy running a farm; it’s quite hard. But it’s also all I know. I’d been with him since I was 19 years old, and I am also originally from a small farming town.
“The adjustment was having an active hand to play in running our operations. I hadn’t ever been at the boss of the farm before, but now it’s easier.”
According to Du Plessis, she had to deal with some resistance to her helming the farm in the beginning, but this has since eased.
“I think that some people didn’t think I was able to do it. I am still dealing with trauma from my husband’s death, and I was really shaken directly after [it happened]. Now, I live beside it – it doesn’t control me. Life has to go on, and I have workers who rely on me. By extension, I have families relying on me. We had to pick up and get going again.”
When observing Du Plessis interacting with her workers, it’s easy to see that while she is kind, she shouldn’t be messed with. As she walks through the farm, explaining how cute the little lambs are during birthing season, her enthusiasm and love for animals is palpable. Currently, she has lambs, sheep and cows on the farm, and there are some horses that she plans on selling.
“The horses were my husband’s. He would sometimes spend all day with them, grooming them. Jannie always said he doesn’t need anything that isn’t on the farm, and I agree. You have nature, space, animals and friends on the next farm. What more could you want?”
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