From farm worker to award-winning farmer

Thulo Mahlatsi is an inspiring farmer who made his dreams a reality.
Thulo Mahlatsi is an inspiring farmer who made his dreams a reality.

Thulo Mahlatsi (75) is an award-winning farmer who grew up on a farm in the Bothaville district. He may not have been able to finish primary school due to a lack of funds, but he worked hard and even won the 2017 Grain SA/ABSA/John Deere Financial New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year award for his maize farming. 

Thulo credits his success to skills he picked up from white farmers and his father – who worked as a labourer on the farm they lived on. From fixing tractors and leaking taps to learning how to plant, harvest and take care of cattle, Thulo did it all. 

He dreamt of one day owning his own farm and working for himself, so he made it his career. “Old white farmers were respected because they had money – they lived on farms and I realised farming made money,” Thulo says. 

In 2010, after working for Mr Frikkie Rautenbach since he was a youth, Thulo decided to ask the farmer if he could buy Swartlaagte Farm from him. Mr Rautenbach – who was 90 years old at the time – owned many farms and wanted to help Thulo in his quest. 

Thulo states it was between 2011 and 2012 when the farmer gave him what he needed to plant maize for himself at Swartlaagte. The farmer unfortunately died when Thulo settled in on the farm, which was a major setback for him – he wasn’t able to buy the land and lost the tractor given to him by Mr Rautenbach.

 He emphasises he’s grateful to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform that helped with the legalities to acquire the farm, and Thulo now rents the land from the department. They also gave him the funding he needed to get started on the farm and helped him to buy his first tractor.

When he arrived on the farm he had no money, just the 15 sheep he saved up to buy, but now he has 180 sheep and over 46 cattle – he also sold some of the livestock along the way when he needed money. Today Thulo plants maize which he trades with Senwes.                                                       
Starting without resources wasn’t easy but he developed over time, he says. 

Thulo also hails the organisation Grain SA that helped with managing his money and supplying a mentor.                                                                         
Thulo credits his progress to his frugal nature and ability to only spend what was needed while trying to be a successful farmer. The effects of the drought were felt too, but he states it’s important to have crops and livestock which can be sold during rough seasons with low yields.

“I always tell people that drought is not a new thing, but we ask God for everything.”                                                                                                                  
His daughter, Doreen (43), proudly carries on his legacy while helping with the business. She’s being groomed to take care of the farm Thulo intends to work on until he no longer can. Head to for more about Thulo.     

Thulo is grooming his daughter, Doreen to continue his legacy. 

BELOW: Thulo and his mentor, Christiaan Bouwer.