Having been born with a leg deformity, 44-year-old Avhapfani “Chillyboy” Rathando could have easily allowed self-pity to consume him. Instead, he chose to not sit in perpetual sadness.
Today, he runs two successful farming enterprises and wants to inspire others like him to not feel sorry for themselves but to create their own opportunities.
While most children start walking on their own around twelve months of age, Rathando took his first real steps only at the age of seven.
Because of his condition, most of his childhood days was spent navigating through tough, trying times.
Believing in the future
“I was always bullied, always. I felt that because of my disability, people didn’t like me. I felt like I was constantly being criticised for being different,” he says,
Despite the perceptions of others, Rathando was convinced that he would do spectacular things with his life one day.
“Every person wants the good things in life”, he admits. “Every day I was praying for better days and better things. When I’m walking or sitting somewhere, I was asking for God to give me a nice life someday.”
He got what he prayed for and is now a recognised farmer in the rural village of Maluma outside Thohoyandou in Limpopo. There, he cultivates butternut, brinjals and other veggies on a one-hectare property he rents.
Rathando’s produce is spread between major retail outlets which include a Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Spar outlet. He also sells directly to members of his community and supermarkets.
Rathando is an entrepreneur with the drive to always go further and faster. That is why he also owns a cleaning and pest control company.
He farms indigenous vegetables and cotton with a friend on 30 hectares in the Masvingo province of Zimbabwe, more than 400 km from his South African farm.
Pining for success and financial freedom
Planting and ploughing away on his farming property, Rathando acknowledges that he would never have been where he is today if it were not for his mother. She was a low-key farmer herself and always encouraged him to pursue agriculture.
However, before strapping on his farming boots, Rathando worked as an assistant teacher for nine years. Despite never qualifying as a teacher, he helped learners with mathematics, biology and English.
When the entrepreneurial bug bit, Rathando decided to start his first small business in 2004, called Rathando Chillyboy Cleaning and Toilet and Pest Control.
“First I was cleaning streets and then I started doing pest control. I wanted to show people that just because you’re disabled does not mean you have to sit all day and do nothing. No, wake up and create your own opportunities,” he exclaims.
“When I see green, my heart is happy…I want to share that feeling with others.”
Then in 2006, Rathando found the courage to take a big leap and start his farming business. He says he registered the company with his disability grant money and the business took shape with pigs, chickens and maize that he planted.
Rathando says he is grateful that his disability has not once hindered his farming hustle.
“I’m not being criticised because of my disability and I have never had problems with clients and markets. Some people even reach out to me to teach them how to farm,” he says.
He is also grateful to government for the support they have provided him with.
“They’ve supported me really well in my journey of agriculture. But sometimes the farming community is not always that friendly. Half of them like you and the rest don’t. I don’t know if its jealousy maybe,” he laughs.
‘Be willing to take risks’
The Limpopo farmer understands that risk-taking is almost synonymous with entrepreneurship. So, in 2007 he partnered with a farmer in Zimbabwe to utilise 30 hectares of vacant land. This, despite having only been a farmer for little over a year.
Together with his partner, they run a cotton farm and grow indigenous vegetables as well. “When you are in farming and your intention is to be successful, you need a big heart. Be willing to take risks,” Rathando believes.
When Rathando is not ploughing his own fields, he can be found ploughing back into his community with his many philanthropical activities.
He donates school uniforms to disadvantaged kids and has to date paid the tuition fees of about 20 college students. Not too long ago he donated a generator to a blind farmer in his community as well.
“It’s important to me – ploughing back into my community. Many people are poor and struggling, but God has allowed me to live a better life. I want to share that with other people,” he says.
Not only is he a man with vision, a love for the land and a philanthropic heart, Rathando also is an award-winning farmer.
In 2018 he was awarded by the Persons with Disabilities in Agriculture and Rural Development Awards in the Top Producer National Markets category. In 2019, he won overall winner at the same awards. The awards are hosted annually by the Limpopo department of agriculture and rural development.
Old Mutual and the department awarded him with a large sum of cash to promote careers for disabled people within the agricultural sector.
“When I see green, my heart is happy,” Rathando states. “I want to share that feeling with others. My goal is to own land and create jobs for people living with disabilities. People need to know that disabled people are capable of more than what they think.”