“I never let my gender or the colour of my skin undermine my capabilities,” says the 41-year-old woman who now runs the non-profit company that is the umbrella body representing the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa, the South African Table Grape Industry, Hortgro, the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum and the South African Subtropical Growers’ Association.
She says she let her skills and work ethic speak for her to earn the respect and the hot seat she has just occupied.
“I’m one to believe that you can’t say it’s not possible. Fine, it may not seem possible, because you’ve never tried it. Just because you’ve never tried it or you don’t know how it’s done does not mean it’s impossible,” she says.
Born and bred in Ha-Mashau, a small village in Limpopo, Ratshitanga says her journey to agriculture was by accident. She had applied for a degree in microbiology at the University of Pretoria, but was accepted for a degree in agriculture instead.
While not disappointed, she was concerned that she would not know which career path to follow after her studies. This was because she did not have much exposure to the agricultural sector back in 1996. As soon as lectures began, however, people in the agri–sector came to address the class and they taught Ratshitanga and her classmates about the career possibilities that were available to them.
After completing her junior degree in agriculture she decided to pursue her master’s degree.
“It was something I always wanted to do, and my mentor and lecturer Prof Lise Korsten, professor of plant pathology at the University of Pretoria, supported me with my decision,” she says.
“Seeing people attaining their dreams by applying their minds and investing the right attitude, time and hard work inspired me,” ratshitanga says.
Ratshitanga is the eldest of three children. She was raised by her mother and father, Gloria and Griffith Mashau, who are both teachers by profession. She says her parents were strict and taught her the value of hard work.
Even during school holidays they were expected to do schoolwork and were only allowed to watch TV for 30 minutes once a week. It was only during the December holidays that they could actually unwind and have fun.
Currently completing her B. Com Honours degree in Economics at the University of South Africa, Ratshitanga also holds a master’s degree in agriculture (MInstAgrar) specialising in plant protection from the University of Pretoria.
The start of her career in the fruit business
In her 3rd year, the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) came to the university offering bursaries. It is an independent quality certification and cold chain management services company for producers and exporters of perishable food products.
The bursary she got from PPECB not only paid for the rest of her studies, it also landed her a job as a food inspector. While inspecting fresh produce for exports she developed an interest in quality assurance and food safety and was compelled towards the field of international trade.
After three years she moved to the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) and was positioned in plant production where she did policy work.
She says she could not shake off her interest in international trade and fortunately she got an opportunity at the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU). She worked as standard regional coordinator for three years getting excellent exposure to international trade aspects of agriculture before moving to other roles. Overall Ratshitanga worked a total of twelve years in the company working on agri development projects that support farmer organisations in Southern Africa.She joined Fruit SA as industry affairs manager in July 2019.
“I didn’t know when I started that I would end up where I am today. Just seeing that evolution in myself and my progression in terms of my career as well as my studies – particularly my part time studies which I did while working – makes me proud,” she says.
Ratshitanga was appointed CEO of Fruit SA on 1 June 2020 following her appointment to the role of acting CEO on 1 April.
She says her vision for the future is to see the fruit industry continuously growing and achieving its objectives while it evolves and continues to contribute socially and economically to our country.