Blacks take to game farming

2015-09-03 17:21
Cheetah in Nambiti Game Reserve.

Cheetah in Nambiti Game Reserve. (Ian Carbutt)

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Lephalale - The game breeding industry in South Africa is the epitome of white, khaki-clad Afrikaner life - just the sort of business that black entrepreneur Mike Gcabo loves to break into.

Game breeding - when prized animals are bred, bought and sold - has been dominated by white farmers as a result of the country's apartheid regime which restricted black ownership of land.

But today, new breeders like Gcabo are making their mark, vowing to upend the status quo in a lucrative and glamorous sector.

"I have a number of black investors who have invested their money with me and I set out to deliberately bring them into the fold," said 48-year-old Gcabo, who has a goatee and wears a black baseball cap.

"If I don't do that, who else would?"

His collaborative approach is unusual.

Gcabo made his money as a mining consultant and later served in government and is upbeat about the future and keen to share his expertise and enthusiasm.

Each year, an elite group of farm owners spend tens of millions of dollars on animals at auctions held across the country where the breeders display their finest specimens.

Status symbol 

Some animals are used for trophy hunting, with hunters willing to pay a premium to hunt a special animal, whether it is a black impala, a golden wildebeest, or a buffalo with massive horns.

But the best are kept to be admired, shown off as status symbols and used for breeding - in what farmers describe as a better investment than property or stocks.

"I'm working with a number of communities to help them start breeding. We provide a ram, they provide the ewe," Gcabo said, adding that he allows some people to keep their animals on his land.

On a sunny day on his farm in the Kalahari desert, Gcabo rounded up some of his finest impala and wildebeest that were already sold at his first-ever auction a few months ago.

Other game breeders - the majority white and speaking exclusively in Afrikaans - helped Gcabo carefully load a black impala worth over $24 000 into an army green trailer to be taken to its new owner.

"It went well, it's just that there is always a moment of tension," said Gcabo, flashing a smile after the impala was safely on board.

The ethnic bias in the game breeding business makes the industry a target for reform.

Just 15 out of the 1 500 farm owners who belong to Wildlife Ranching South Africa, the national association of game breeders, are black.

"Obviously with democracy, there were a few newcomers," said Peter Oberem, the association's president. "The best known of all would be Cyril Ramaphosa."

$2 million buffalo 

Ramaphosa, South Africa's deputy president and a multi-millionaire businessman, has embraced game breeding with a passion.

But he was forced to apologise when he spent a cool $2m on a single buffalo in 2012 - a purchase that sparked public outrage given the country's grim poverty levels.

Oberem acknowledges that for the industry to thrive it needs to do more to diversify and broaden its public interest.

He is in talks with the government to organise a collaboration with black farmers who have won a land claim or have purchased government land to run game breeding businesses.

"This is the future of the game industry, we should all get together and make this happen," said Peter Lamprecht, a game breeder who works with Gcabo.

"This is not a white man industry, it's an industry for anybody that has a belief that this business has got a future."

Already, Gcabo has become a role model in the field.

His nephew, Lesego, attended the game capture, dashing around the trucks and trailers taking photos of the animals.

"If it was up to me, I would start tomorrow," said Lesego, a bookish 24-year-old. "I'm trying to gain more knowledge about what this really is."

Gcabo knows that the financial barriers to the industry are high.

But he's optimistic that he can make a difference.

"If we continue to bring in new entrants, as I'm on a real drive to do, I see this industry growing in leaps and bounds," he said. "It makes business sense."

Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  agriculture  |  animals

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