EXTRACT | They call me the black boerseun

For the Love of the Land by Ivor Price and Kobus Louwrens, published by NB Publishers.
For the Love of the Land by Ivor Price and Kobus Louwrens, published by NB Publishers.

My father, Nceba Tikana, recently retired as a mechanic. He loved working on cars, and often would rebuild the motor itself.

For as long as I can remember, he also liked to get as much mileage as he could out of a car, much to the amusement of my sisters, Unathi, Busisiwe, Kholwa and me.

Our mother, Nozuko, is a farmer in the truest sense of the word, even though we only started farming five years ago. Where others saw dirt, she always saw potential. I guess she takes after uTatomkhulu – my late grandfather, Paulos Siwisa Mlambo – who tirelessly worked the land in various parts of the old Ciskei and Transkei. He used to call me msuzo we' bhokwe, meaning 'goat's fart'.

Here, on the Wild Coast Jikeleza where our dairy farm is situated, I'm known as the black boerseun after a news article referred to me as such. Often, when people meet me for the first time, they are surprised. My skin has been kissed by the sun all my life, but my tongue holds the secret to a country that is very different to the land my forefathers knew and loved.

When I was born in 1993, Nelson Mandela had already been released from prison after serving a 27-year sentence. I matriculated from Hoërskool Grens in East London. isiXhosa might be my mother tongue, but it's Afrikaans that stole my heart when I was just a little boy. I was enrolled in Afrikaans schools because my parents believed that one day it would open doors for me.

The fact that we are black has closed many doors, too, though. We are the only black dairy farmers in our neck of the woods, and more often than not white farmers have refused pointblank to do business with us because we look different. Every now and then, a neighbour calls the SPCA, claiming that we are neglecting our cattle. It's so humiliating. It angers me to the point where I want to swear at her. They don't know that uTatomkhulu worked with cattle for decades. They don't even care that I speak Afrikaans.

Luckily, some of our other neighbours, like Michael Horn and Vanessa Smith, have been quite a blessing. They are our divine help in our hour of need. Without batting an eye, they lend us their farming equipment when we need it most: expensive equipment that we can't yet afford. They remind us, too, that we have been placed on this farm for a reason.

We are firm believers. Our faith carries us through hardship, and I learnt early in my life that He lifts us up and carries us. This is a lesson I learnt shortly after matriculating when I did missionary work elsewhere in Africa as part of the Youth With A Mission organisation.

I wish my oupa were still alive to see me getting my hands dirty with our dairy cows, specifically bred to produce large quantities of milk. He died when I was just eight years old – long before we owned a farm, in the days when my father was still known as the only guy who could resurrect a skorokoro, often to the surprise of its owner. In his 50 years as a mechanic, there was only one car that tested his patience. He had just redone the engine of a BMW 540i, which refused to start despite his best efforts. Not wanting to disappoint me, he said, 'Listen, I am tired of struggling with this car. I will dream about it and trust me, I will figure it out.' When I woke up the next morning, the car had been fixed after my father had started working on it in the wee hours of the morning.

uTatomkhulu loved people. He was a self-deprecating man who loved his children and grandchildren dearly. When we visited the Transkei, I would share a bed with him because at the time my ouma, Asiana, was away working as a teacher in Johannesburg. When the sun rose, my oupa would wake my sisters, cousins and me to fetch water from the nearby river. He never owned any land, although he lived off the land. When word got out that he had the ability to test soil to evaluate its susceptibility to growing flora, he was soon employed by the government, which sent him to different towns.

Ten years ago, my mother had the foresight to start farming. She has always had an entrepreneurial spirit but stopped doing business with the government when tenders became dirty. Like my oupa, she has always equipped people in rural communities with much-needed skills, telling them to fight for one more day.

She approached the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to become a beneficiary of a farm dedicated to black farmers. It was a tedious and tiring process of at least seven years, but she persisted: she was set on proving that black women like her had the innate ability to farm. As a woman of faith, she never lost hope; five years later, we signed the papers for Rosedene Dairy Farm.

It has been a process of trial and error, but I guess we haven't done too badly. We are mainly a dairy farm, but we soon learnt that we needed a little chicken hatchery to survive. Our entire family gets their hands dirty. My dad does all the much-needed farm maintenance work and my mom, who is twenty years younger than him, is the boss lady. Unathi is responsible for the finances and administration. Kholwa does the marketing. You'll be mistaken if you assume that they're girly-girls who can't farm.

I do everything from the administration to working in the milk processing factory. I am also the one who drives the truck to town to do the milk deliveries. And then there is Mzoxolo Sonjica, who works like a machine producing milk and pasteurised amasi. We also rely on the support of our farm manager, Troy.

On most days, being black farmers is extremely difficult, to say the least. We have to confront the notion that we only received the farm based on the colour of our skin. Some say we bought a farm with votes and political connections and assume that we have no expertise or experience. We have little access to the market, and often we lie awake wondering how we will produce jobs without a market to sell our products to.

But we can make something of this land . . .

We dream of turning this farm into a beacon of hope, not only for the agricultural community, but to show other struggling black farmers that it can be done. We want to feed our nation and leave a legacy that uTatomkhulu would've been proud of.

* This extract was taken from For the Love of the Land by Ivor Price and Kobus Louwrens, published by NB Publishers.

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