“If you want to destroy me, you will need to take away my skills, knowledge, passion and courage. As long as I have those things, I will always bounce back.”
This is what North West livestock farmer Keneilwe Raphesu, a young farmer previously featured on Food For Mzansi, has to say to the person responsible for setting alight her farming property and destroying 50 hectares of land.
Raphesu was announced as the (Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO) and National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (NERPO) Emerging Farmer of the Year in 2021.
According to the award-winning farmer the fire destroyed 50 hectares of smuts finger grass, which she grows to feed her cows and pigs.
The devastating fire started on the evening of New Year’s Day (1 January 2022) at around 22:30 while Keneilwe and her family were having a quiet night inside their family home.
Raphesu and her father responded to a call from one of their employees who complained about a drunk trespasser on the property who did not want to leave. The police were called right away.
Arriving on the scene, Raphesu noticed smoke coming from a section of the farm. “It was very dark so we could not see. At first I thought that it was mist, but I soon realised that my farm was on fire.”
The fire started right in the middle of the camp, which makes Raphesu believe that the fire was started intentionally. It had also been raining and the grass was wet.
The fire continued into the following day despite the family’s efforts to get firefighters to put it out.
“We called the fire department but didn’t get any help. They said that they did not have any [trucks] available. There was not much we could do, so we waited for daylight. I thought that because it was raining it would not do that much damage.”
The flames were only doused the following day at 14:30. It was, however, too late to prevent major damage as the flames had already consumed such a large area.
‘An act of jealousy’
Responding to her post @SakhileNcayiyan expressed his hopes that Raphesu would get assistance from the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development.
Another farmer previously featured by Food For Mzansi, David Fincham of David Fincham Aquaculture, also commented on the post.
Although she has some feed stored up, Raphesu tells Food For Mzansi that she hopes to bounce back before winter. “I have to start from scratch. I now have to buy feed and fertilisers to plant again and hope that it will grow.
“By April we will be experiencing frost early in the mornings and I will need the grass as supplement for my feed. If I can get fertilisers and seeds immediately than I’ll be able to bounce back in time for the winter season. I’ll only be able to harvest again in May.”
The incident hampers her plans to sell some weaners. “I now have to buy food for them so that they can gain the desired average weight. Also, the lactating mothers who are breastfeeding needed the supplements from this type of grass.”
Farmers across Mzansi are currently battling with high feed costs. Raphesu cultivated the smuts finger grass to limit input costs as far as possible and to help fellow farmers by selling them the more cost-effective grass.
Raphesu is relieved, however, that the fire did not spread to neighbouring properties and that her workers and animals are safe.
“I don’t know what the motive or intention was to start this fire, but if someone is destroying my produce then it means they are against me producing this type of grass. Or [they] are jealous.”
Young farmer will bounce back
“I always limit people coming to my farm. I don’t do farm visits at all and don’t even post pictures of my whole herd or location. Not everyone’s intentions are pure. People just want to see what you are doing so that they can come and destroy.”
But winning awards takes a whole lot of grit and she is as determined as ever to succeed. “When you try to burn my farm, be sure that I will recover.
“There was a moment when the wind was blowing and I felt like crying because everything was just a mess. Having my father by my side really helped. I will not let this stop me. I’ll bounce back.”
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