Every morning the soon to be 90-year-old tobacco farmer Nokamile Mazosiwe steps barefoot onto the piece of land she nurtures in Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape. To her it’s much more than just six hectares of land in a town named after “a green place next to a stream”. It is the land where, she says, she not only “ukusinda” (“survives”), but also “ukunikeza” (“provides”).
Her farm is about as big as six rugby fields – a tiny space when compared to the land occupied by some of the other small-scale farmers in the region. To Manjuza, as she is affectionately known by villagers, her land is the source of life that helped her to create a better tomorrow for her 10 children and ever growing grandchildren.
“Ndiyakuthanda ukufuya kodwa intliziyo yam isekhaya,” she says about her 33-year career in agriculture. Literally translated from isiXhosa, the predominant language in the Eastern Cape, this means, “Farming might have caught my eye, but my family has stolen my heart.”
Mazosiwe adds, “Although most of my children are on their own journeys. Some of them come by on weekends to help me do the things my body doesn’t allow me anymore.”
However, she continues to toil with love, enjoying the privilege of feeling the soil beneath her feet and the daily dance of the sun on her skin. Mazosiwe says farming is all she knows. “You’ll find all kinds of vegetables on my farm. I love cultivating potatoes and chilies, but my favourite has to be the tobacco plants.”
When she started growing tobacco, she was the only one in the town doing it. She had to learn the art of tobacco farming, and soon realized that her love for farming was not enough. Quickly, she had to learn the tricks and processes involving one of the oldest commercially grown crops. Of course, it was also much easier when she was younger to carefully manage the tiny tobacco seeds, not much larger than a pin prick.
As a true agripreneur, Mazosiwe took what she loved and changed not only her own life, but the lives of those around her. The village is full of her praise, and they admire her dedication. She plants her own trees with her wrinkled hands, and waters them on a very strict schedule to grow to their full potential. Furthermore, she travels to and from town to deliver her produce.
“Farming every day lightened a heavy financial burden for me,” exclaims Mazosiwe, who used to cook big dinners for her family. These days, her meager harvests are no longer enough to cook for many, a gift of life she dearly misses. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss cooking for a family of more than 10 people. With something as tiny as a tobacco seed, you can change your entire future. With a little you can do a lot.”
With the tiny profits made throughout the year, she could also educate and look after her children. She had always known that her children or grandchildren wouldn’t necessarily be inspired to also pursue an agricultural career, but has kept the faith that at least one would follow in her footsteps.
After hinting for 33 years, one of her grandchildren, Busi Mazosiwe, started studying agriculture at Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry in King Williams Town – hoping to one day walk in Mazosiwe’s footsteps.
Mazosiwe has no intention of retiring. She has known from a young age that her agricultural journey will not lead to riches. After more than three decades on the farm, she is however pleased to also reap the harvest of knowledge, love and passion.
Her grandson Kholo Mazosiwe says: “I’m proud to call her my grandmother, because she’s a go-getter and it has rubbed off on all of us.”
She says, “Stepping out onto my land, my pride and joy, every morning has become my favourite thing to do. The fact that I can now live off it is an added bonus. It’s just heartbreaking that the little income I get from it could be taken away from me at any time (due to a steady decline in South African and international tobacco production).”