A farm boy at heart

By Drum Digital
08 October 2010

IT’S DUSK and the searing sun is about to set over the misty eastern Free State mountains. A man emerges on horseback from across the fields, leading a herd of cattle to the kraal. Nearby a family of ducks makes its way from the pond to the farmyard while chickens peck at the ground.

It’s a picture-perfect scene and one Mike Mokoenawill never tire of. He may be a successful businessman, soccer mogul and the owner of a mansion in town, but he’s happiest right here on his farm, surrounded by animals and wide open spaces.“This is my life,” Mike says as he climbs off his horse. “I’m a farm boy.”

He is also a self-made man, building his way up from the bottom to become the star of his own success story. He has faced many challenges on the way – not least the death of two of his beloved children – but he has refused to give up.

Today Mike, who is the father of TV presenter Thapelo Mokoena, is the boss of Premier Soccer League (PSL) side Free State Stars and a member of the PSL executive committee. He’s also the owner of Tshwara Thebe Construction, which lays foundations for RDP houses across the Free State.

His farm, a remote piece of land 30 km outside the Free State town of Harrismith, is also a success story. He’s won numerous awards from two organisations he belongs to – the Bonsmara Cattle Breeding Society and the Brangus Cattle Breeders Society – for having the best breed of cattle.

Dairy company Nestlé fetch milk from his farm every second day, he tells us proudly. “So I do make some money outside soccer, but it’s not much,” he says.

The 58-year-old powerhouse has been accused of being a “tenderpreneur” but he just laughs off the suggestion. “People just say that when they see my big house,” he says.

“Truthfully speaking, yes, I am involved in tendering, just like everyone else. What’s wrong with that? It’s fine as long as it’s done legally. I had a feeding scheme tender but it didn’t work out and now my delivery trucks are just sitting around.”

THE “big house” he’s speaking about is a double-storey in the affluent suburb of La Provence in Bethlehem where we go after our visit to his farm.

His delivery trucks might be gathering dust somewhere but the wheels parked outside this cream mansion – Mike’s brawny Toyota Hi-Rider bakkie and his wife Joyce’s silky black Mercedes Benz – are gleaming in the Free State sun.

Sprinklers moisten the green grass as Joyce (54) prepares for her afternoon walk around the neighbourhood. “She’s trying to run way from ageing,” Mike quips.

Everything about the place shouts comfort and opulence, from the large plasma screen TV to the expensive furniture, lavish curtains and bar stocked with expensive collector’s wines and whiskys.

“We worked hard for all of this,” says Joyce, Mike’s wife of 35 years. “I used to be a teacher earning just R50 a week.” They’ve come a long way. Mike grew up outside Frankfort in the Free State where his father, Sefofane, was a farmer, and his mother, Mapule, a housewife.

Read the full article in DRUM of 14 October 2010

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