While agriculture remains a predominantly male-dominated sector, a generation of female powerhouses have already taken up space and, if you ask us, chances are that most of the country’s food will be produced by #shebosses in the future.
Today, as South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in recognition of the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to protest the extension of pass laws to women, we proudly celebrate women in agriculture. If you’re a fan of Food For Mzansi you’d know that we believe that closing the gender gap in agriculture will grow food production and also build sustainable futures for women.
In this spirit, #TeamFoodForMzansi asked 15 female powerhouses from diverse parts of the sector to share their candid messages to the men and other women in agriculture. They are calling on the sector to stop denying itself the benefits and privilege that a diversity of perspectives brings, and to make space for more women to make an impact.
Fhumulani Ratshitanga, CEO of Fruit South Africa
“My view is that the dominance of men is not peculiar to agriculture, but applies to other sectors of the economy too. In agriculture, women have always been involved, although in the background. However, this situation is slowly changing, and we are starting to see more women faces in the sector, including in positions of power and influence. It would be great to see these numbers growing, and men have a critical role to play in this.
“For women who are not yet engaged in agriculture, men can assist by helping to change the image of agriculture as a man’s world. For those women already in the sector, men can mentor them for leadership and other prominent roles.”
Ikageng Maluleke, agricultural economist at Grain SA
“Women have mountains to climb throughout our lives! As women we still have a long way to go in terms of finding our place in agri and as it stands there are several women who are breaking into the space, but I feel like it is not as much as it should be, considering the dynamics of our country.
“Agriculture (in South Africa) is still a white, male-dominated industry and females still need to find their voice and their place within the industry. There is progress but it’s not happening fast enough. Men should give us an opportunity instead of just stereotyping us and making us feel like we don’t belong. Just giving us the opportunity is what we need to feel confident enough to prove that we belong in the space.”
Andile Matukane, founder of Farmers Choice
“Things are looking good for women in agriculture! Times have changed. At the moment everybody is trying to support especially young black women in the industry. It is such an honour and a great privilege to be a part of a sisterhood that has formed within the agricultural space.
“Everyone is trying to support young females who are trying to break into the industry so it is really just amazing to be a part of that. Looking at the times that we are in we know that agriculture is a male-dominated industry, but now everyone is trying to get women included into the space.
“There is more to be done. Times are changing, but there are those who are still stubborn. They believe that farming is strictly for males and not a woman’s place. There is just something magical about being a woman that comes with this sense of purpose and #BlackGirlMagic.”
Salomè Scholtz, cattle farmer from Stella in North West
“When I was around 14 years old, I always told people I want to be a farmer. When all the other girls wanted to be ballet dancers, I wanted to be a farmer. I remember quite clearly I was saving up money to buy myself a pair of veld shoes. So, one Friday afternoon I went to Vryburg with my mom and I told her I’m going to buy the vellies.
“I took them off the shelf and the owner laughed and said those shoes aren’t for girls. I told him I’m going to be a farmer one day and he cracked laughing, told me women can’t farm. That was the moment I realised I’m forever going to hear that comment. I bought my vellies, smiled, said thanks and told him I WILL be a farmer and he should always remember this day.
“To the men I would say, be proactive about welcoming women into the agri sector. You have no idea how heavily gender inequality weighs on us who are in the sector. Gender equality is a human right, it’s essential for economic prosperity.”
Thoko Didiza, minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development
“As we commemorate Women’s Month 2020 under the unprecedented conditions resulting from the covid-19 pandemic, we continue to honour all women in the department, including women in the agricultural sector.
“This year’s global theme for Women’s Month is ‘Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights For An Equal Future.’ The theme further highlights the continuing efforts and contribution of women, young females and women with disabilities for the role they play in food security, poverty alleviation, job creation and economic growth in the sector as counterparts to men through the departmental flagship programme known as the Female Entrepreneur Awards.
“May we continue to rise in the spirit of the 1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings and continue to advance women empowerment and gender equality. The department also supports the fight against gender-based violence.”
Eugene Simons, farmer and founder of Algina’s Wholesale Nursery
“Farmers are not defined by gender. We, as females in agriculture, have the same passion, strength, vision, and endurance which makes women more than capable of being successful farmers.
“Females in agriculture have a love for the land and its people. We have big hearts and we are here. Yes, there are challenges that we face but we are here to stay!”
Linah Maphanga, CEO of Farmers Assistant
“I would say that when it comes to business both genders bring unique skills to the table. So just because somebody is a woman it does not mean they aren’t skilled enough. You get a different perspective when it comes to a woman because they probably have qualities men don’t have. Surprisingly, there are a lot of women farmers in Mpumalanga, but the problem is how to convince them to build businesses around their farms.
“Men just need to understand that women are sharp enough to work in the industry and they need to give women an opportunity to do well and also be part of the industry. We are not saying that we want to be like men. My mother, when she goes on the farm, she wears a dress, because she is a woman. That doesn’t mean she is less of a farmer.
“I think there needs to be a lot of change in the sector. Men need to understand that women can also start businesses and I have seen a lot of cooperatives who are pushing for women to get funding. However, women are not being put in leadership positions in organisations. Women should be given opportunities as shareholders.”
Gugu Wanda, head chef at Wish on Florida, Durban
“Believe me, there is currently not a lot of women who run kitchens because we are told that we are ‘too emotional’ to even be considered for leadership positions. I honestly think there is still a lot to be done. Most of the black females in kitchens aren’t necessarily formally ‘educated’ females, they are skills-based female cooks.
“A lot of them get overlooked. You get a lot of white males who have their degrees being sent to Dubai, but abo mama (“women”) in the kitchen, they are not given that chance and advantage to grow. uThola umama ekitchen (“You find an older woman in the kitchen”) who has been in there for 15 years who’s been on the pots and pans for years, but nobody has ever given her the chance to run the kitchen.”
Mpho Ramosili, senior marketing manager at Agricultural Research Council
“I cannot speak on behalf of all women in the sector, but can only share my personal experience and observations, which are by no means based on any research study.
“The sector has women participating at various levels from policy development to primary agriculture to support roles such as mine. The current minister of agriculture is a woman. This is also the second time she is occupying the role. When the announcement was made about her return, the sector was very excited because people remembered the value she had added the first time round.
“My experience has brought me into contact with very strong and committed women. Agriculture is after all not for the fainthearted. Having said this, I believe there is plenty of room for improvement, especially in women’s participation in the entire value chain, especially in the agro-processing and funding sphere.”
Jacqui Taylor, founder and managing director of Agritourism South Africa
“A fundamental shift in thinking is required towards all South African women by South African men. The CEO’s of agricultural organisations are (all) men. Why?
“The exact words from a male farmer were, ‘Largely because it is an organised male network who view women as workers, but incapable of making tough business decisions.’
“What is needed is a mindset change. Talking is not the solution, action speaks louder than words. Sometimes change needs to be incentivised if there is a lack of will.”
Kagalelo Matlala, poultry farmer from Kuruman in the Northern Cape
“I’d like to address the men our industry. As women we are here to learn and grow, that’s all. We are not here to work against you and so there’s no need to feel intimidated by us.
“I think what bothers me most is hearing stories of men who claim that they want to help women grow in their agricultural journeys, but then ask for sexual favours in return. That’s not how we grow South African agriculture and it’s really degrading and low.
“Again, we are not here to work against you, but with you. So, chill out and be more open to women in power.”
Keatlegile Mnguni, livestock farmer and Afasa’s youth chairperson
“As a female farmer being in a male dominated industry automatically seems intimidating. Males in the sector tend to not align you as a female farmer with what you do. I handle livestock, but I get irrelevant and condescending comments, like “but poultry suits you”.
“It is very important to normalise any part of the industry as a career that can be done by either male or female. It’s not fair to be categorised by what male farmers think we should fall under. Especially given the capacity, capability, understanding and also the extensive knowledge a female, especially African, can have about the sector.
“Act and treat women in the sector normally like any male. But take into account we are women and sometimes do need a male figure, especially for weight we cannot pick up. Treat us like your partners in the industry and understand that today is a different era.
“Cultural practises of male power and dominance were done years ago. Now we have an open opportunity to also make a difference in society. We can uplift other women to grow in the space, to feed the nation and to uphold families, including the men. Respect and equality is all we need!”
Rita-Theresa du Plessis Van der Mescht, farmer in Grootvlei, Mpumalanga
“When I tell people I’m a farmer their jaws drop. They say I don’t look like a farmer. My hands aren’t cracked. What do I know about helping a calving cow? They don’t take me seriously. But I love it. I love showing them that I can drive a tractor; showing them that I’m a great farmer.”
Dineo Boshomane, vegetable farmer in Johannesburg
“When I introduce myself as a farmer, they say, ‘You are too pretty for that,’ but I’ve got a brain. Others say, ‘Let me touch your hands. They are too soft.’
My hands are soft because I take care of myself. I always have a lipstick. It gives me va-va-voom. I am very young and attractive… When I go to the farm I have to look cute. My farm sees me.”
Marianne van der Laarse, managing director at Agrijob
“Women in agriculture are the backbone of the agricultural industry, in extraordinary ways. They are creative, communicate well, and portray resilience in times when companies need agility the most.”
“What women expect in return, are to be treated as equals, and to be empowered to apply their multiple skills towards improvement of systems and efficiency in companies. And with budget season on hand, there is no longer room for excuses by company directors on why women are paid less than their male counterparts.
“‘Equal pay for work of equal value’, are the words of Chidi King, Director of the Equality Department of the International Trade Union Confederation, in support of the #StopTheRobbery campaign by UN Women. Let’s join and let our voices be heard.”