Progress at Cedara College

2008-02-08 00:00

AGRICULTURAL education will be vitally important if we are to prevent South Africa slipping into a starvation cycle.

Last month we discussed the role of agricultural schools and we appreciated that Weston is providing excellent training. In the same mould, Zakwe College outside Pietermaritzburg is also developing into a wonderful institution under the guidance of Richard Dladla.

There are only two other agricultural schools in KwaZulu-Natal. The Landbou Skool in Vryheid is well known from its past record. I am not so sure of its present status. The school at Ulundi is apparently going through a few difficulties.

These four schools are not enough for the demands that are presently being placed on our farmland especially with the present restitution and redistribution policies which are leading to many people being settled on land that they do not know how to farm effectively.

The next step up in the education chain from schools are agricultural colleges. There are two in KwaZulu-Natal — Cedara and Owen Sitole at Empangeni.

I am somewhat concerned about Cedara because I have been on the academic board for many years and have not been invited to a meeting for the past two years.

Nevertheless, things are happening at the college. Apart from a very smart new entrance to the Cedara estate there is also a massive new education block behind the administrative buildings which is conveniently close to the student farm.

This farm is also a new innovation and it is easy for students to move from the hostel to lectures and, most importantly, to the farm where they should be.

There was to be a grand opening of the new facilities in November but that was cancelled at the last minute. No doubt politics has found its ugly way into teaching.

Sivelile Nompozolo has been the new Cedara principal since November 2004 and has been ably assisted by his deputy Berndt Lutge.

There appears to be a shortage of lecturers, however, not because there are no applicants but because the bureaucracy related to evaluating and appointing these lecturers is so great that applicants tend to go and find other jobs while the administrators faff around. Get your act together guys, Rome is burning!

Of the total of 160 students, 35 are in their third year and 55 in the second year. Students have the benefit of individual seats and desks in the new lecture halls, unlike previously when the students sat together on benches and all sorts of nefarious deeds could occur, although having a snooze was probably the worst offence.

But things have changed at the College. In the past the majority of students were farmers’ sons, now they are from all walks of life and although this makes life far more interesting for both lecturers and students it is difficult to teach people from such different backgrounds. It would certainly help if students could be sourced from agricultural schools then they would have some background in agriculture before being thrown into the deep end.

Nevertheless, at one of their inaugural lectures, which I had the pleasure of giving, there was definitely an aura of enthusiasm among the first-years — no doubt because I followed on from Dave Rigby’s lecture which sounded pretty dynamic.

The standard two-year diploma course was changed a few years ago based on the unsound principle that you needed three years to obtain a diploma. Thousands of successful farmers who qualified from Cedara over the 100 years of its existence are proof that a two-year diploma is adequate.

Accepting that many of the new entrants do not have the practical experiences of those earlier students it is probably acceptable that the diploma now takes three years (and longer if necessary).

What is vitally important is an acceptance that the students are not here to obtain academic excellence but a good grounding in practical agriculture. Get your hands dirty guys and girls and be proud to wear your overalls and gumboots, even in town.

If the public see these students marching around town please give them your support. We need well-trained agriculturalists to stop us from starving. There is not a lot to keep our present farmers here so let’s make sure that the young ones who stay are competent.

The principal of Cedara College, Nompozolo, has a huge challenge in ensuring that we produce capable farmers. We all support you sir, but keep those administrators and politicians away from your domain and support your students and staff. We need them and they deserve it.

• Alastair Paterson is an agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817, 082 880 9002 or e-mail agpaterson@satweb.co.za

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