Farmers forget about race - all that counts is a shared love of cattle

27 January 2019 - 00:00 By ALEX PATRICK

When Lehlohonolo Radebe knocked on the door of a stranger, a cattle farmer, and asked for help to start ranching in February 2018, he was asked two simple questions: whether he liked cattle, and which was his favourite breed.
A year later, Radebe is about to buy his first 500ha farm, in Mpumalanga, which he will run on the lines suggested by that mentor, Friedl von Maltitz, 45.
Radebe, 35, had always dreamt of raising cattle. His grandfather had a small herd, but Radebe wanted to learn how to make money from his passion.
"The old way, that I learnt from my grandfather, was you take the cows to the field, they graze and come back. Now I know how to make them profitable."
Last year Radebe asked for help at Free State Agriculture, which referred him to Von Maltitz, who farms in the Ficksburg district near the Lesotho border.
"We spoke fanagalo - we both speak Sotho and Afrikaans and English," Radebe said.
"We had our first meeting right there on the field. He showed me how to get the herd big and fat. I had no idea that they [cows] sold per kilogram."
Over the next few months, Von Maltitz showed Radebe the ropes.
The Free State farmer said he had not thought it odd when Radebe came knocking at his door.
"He arrived one day and said he wanted to be a cattle farmer. I think it's kind of what farmers do naturally - we ask advice of each other all the time. Many farmers have helped other farmers start off, many have helped black farmers.
"I remember when I wanted to learn how to plant sugar beans, I went to a local sugar bean farmer. I just arrived and asked him how he did it. We all do that because we're always learning."
One of Von Maltitz's first questions was: did Radebe like cattle?
"He said he did. I asked him what was his favourite, he said Brahman, and that's all I needed to know.
"He is truly interested and passionate. As long as you love what you do, you will be successful."
Radebe's first auction was quite a challenge. "It was a bit awkward," he said. "Von Maltitz wasn't able to make it, so it was just one darkie among all the boerseuns, but now I'm an old hand. I go to auctions all over the country."
The success story is uncommon in SA's farming sector.
Land reform has for several years come under fire for being ineffective and slow, and has been tainted with claims of fraud and corruption.
A 2018 report by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found fraud "on an enormous scale", with government officials handing out farms and millions of rands in grants to beneficiaries who did not qualify.
The SIU probed 148 land reform projects between 2011 and 2017, finding "major systemic weaknesses" and an "alarming" absence of controls and mechanisms to prevent fraud and maladministration.
Last year the ANC and EFF voted in parliament to change the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation, arguing that a lack of state funds was hampering land reform.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said SA had not made sufficient progress in addressing this issue, as "most of the country's land remains in the hands of the few".
Radebe was raised near Ficksburg, in Fouriesburg. His mother was a single parent who worked for an Afrikaans farmer, who treated him "like a son".
"What I like about the Afrikaans community is that they look after each other," he said.
"The biggest challenge this country faces is that politicians sow division along racial lines. You get bad people in every race. Working with Von Maltitz has nothing to do with colour. He is a successful mentor and I learnt a lot from him."..

There’s never been a more important time to support independent media.

From World War 1 to present-day cosmopolitan South Africa and beyond, the Sunday Times has been a pillar in covering the stories that matter to you.

For just R80 you can become a premium member (digital access) and support a publication that has played an important political and social role in South Africa for over a century of Sundays. You can cancel anytime.

Already subscribed? Sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.