In 2021, during the height of the Covid pandemic, three baby pigs managed to pull Busisiwe Mbane of Alice in the Eastern Cape out of a dark and lonely place in her life.
After a three-year jail sentence, the mother of two left prison eager to pick up the pieces of her life and make up for lost time with her sons. Although her family was happy to see her, Mbane’s community wasn’t yet ready to welcome her back into society.
The stigma attached to offenders overwhelmed Mbane. At times, people even made fun of her, she tells Food For Mzansi. To focus on something else, Mbane invested in three pigs which, she says, became her saving grace.
“When the world felt dark and lonely, the pigs gave me a reason to rise and shine. Not only did they provide companionship, but they also gave me a purpose – a reason to go out and interact with the world around me,” Mbane shares.
Inside a growing piggery
When Mbane had the idea of breeding pigs, she had no job and no income. Like many other South Africans at the time, she depended on the Covid-19 release grant. With the monthly R350 payout, she bought three pigs and managed to grow her herd to 61 large white pigs, a pig breed originating from England.
“I found a new joy in talking to my pigs, even though they can’t talk back. My pigs have transformed my life from a state of isolation to a state of fulfilment and companionship.”
Apart from selling live pigs in the informal market, she also processes and sells pork meat.
Mbane is a long way from where she would like to be but she has the grit and determination to get there. The outbreak of swine flu also hit her hard and she lost more than half of her pig herd.
Life before oinks, grunts and squeals
Mbane is the second child of five siblings. Her late father, Vuyile, farmed with livestock in Alice, eMakhuzeni village while her late mother, Noluthando, worked from home, sewing clothes to earn a living.
The family could not afford to send their daughter to university or college but could afford to send her on a security course after high school. Mbane then moved to Cape Town where she found employment as a security guard at Del Monte, a canning fruit company. The company, however, closed down and she was laid off.
Then, Mbane developed a passion for food, which saw her enrolling in the National Youth Chef’s Training Programme (NYCTP) and completing a hospitality leadership at the International Hotel School in Cape Town. She later also enrolled at Silwood School of Cookery.
With a newfound passion for culinary Mbane thought of starting her own pastry business. Lacking the funds to do, she said yes to what seemed like a golden opportunity for her to generate funds for her business idea. It turned out to be a trap, one that would change the course of her life forever.
Going to prison
Towards the end of 2017, at O.R. Tambo International Airport, Mbane saw her life flash before her eyes. She was arrested for carrying cocaine that she brought from Brazil.
A friend she trusted told her about an opportunity to travel to Sao Paulo to collect “Brazilian hair”. Mbane was promised remuneration of R10 000 upon returning to South Africa with the “hair”.
“Things changed when I arrived in Sao Paulo. I was handed cocaine to carry back to South Africa. I had no one to tell or even run to.”
Mbane was sentenced to eight years in prison at Bizzah Makhate Correctional Centre in Kroonstad but was released in 2020 as part of the special Covid-19 release programme.
Since then, life back in Alice has not been easy for the pig breeder but she is determined to grow her piggery. High on her priority list is to move her pigs out of the current zinc roof sheet structure and into a proper piggery house.
She also cherishes every moment with her two boys and says her children have been her source of strength and inspiration.
“When I was in prison, I missed three years of my son’s life. I was constantly thinking about wasted time and stigma. I’ve learned a great lesson; no matter how desperate you are, you should never let your vulnerability lead the way.”
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