Being a farmer in South Africa today
Ivor Price & Kobus Louwrens
Tafelberg (NB Publishers
Review: Brian Joss
Farming Is a dirty word in South Africa today but Kobus Louwrens, one of the authors, believes that the power of agriculture as a bedrock industry can enhance social cohesion. Ivor Price, who along with Louwrens, as co-founder of FoodforMzansi.co.za, is a well-known name in Afrikaans media and has presented a weekly show on satellite tv, Landbouweekliks ,where he criss-crossed the country to interview stakeholders in Mzansi’s agricultural industry.
Price’s “Kodak moment” came when he was interviewing a family for the DSTV segment and he realised that not all white farmers are racists, recalling his grandfather’s words many years ago, who told Price and his siblings, “Never to trust a white man’s motives”, soon after former president FW de Klerk announced that there would be a ‘whites only’ referendum to decide the future of South Africa. For The Love of the Land could easily have become a how-to guide to farming, and a whinge about droughts, profit margins and what a hard life it is. Instead it is an all-too-human collection of 30 short stories by people who are on the front line.
First up is Pieter Prinsloo, a dentist who farms in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. Prinsloo recalls the highlights and lowlights of his school days on the farm. Prinsloo’s father told him there was no future in farming which is why he studied dentistry at Stellenbosch University. But so often life happens and Prinsloo is now a successful farmer. Despite having his farms expropriated twice he is still farming in Queenstown five generations later. And unlike his father, Prinsloo has involved his son. Koot, in the farming operation. “But the real pleasure lies in the Prinsloo legacy being carried forward. Our daughter, Helene, also loves the Platteland but she works in the publishing industry in the city. Our first grandson, Pieter, is much like me. He too loves being round the cattle and speaks isiXhosa. Our second grandson, Dirk, was born recently. I hope that he too will speak the language of the region so he can better understand our commitment to this land, and be willing to farm alongside the neighbour, whoever that may be.
The stories give an insight in to the life and times of the farmers and of the people who lived on the farms. The Day I Cried for Bertie by Malixole Gwatyu is one. Malixole remembers life on Uitkyk farm in the Overberg where there were apparently no (colour) boundaries. There were, though, but Malixole and his best friend , Bertie, the owner’s son, could never understand them even though they played together. But Malixole wasn’t allowed in the big farmhouse, only when Bertie’s parents were away. Then when they heard the car coming up the dusty drive, it was time to scramble outside, and pretend they had been playing on the lawn in front of the house the whole afternoon. When Malixole was invited to watch television he could only stand and stare through the lounge window. However, when Malixole’s younger brother accidentally fell in to the farm dam, it was the owner’s wife who ran to the rescue with no thought of skin colour.
Malixole recalls that leaving the farm was not a peaceful departure and his one regret is that he didn’t have time to say goodbye to Bertie. “We all lost a piece of ourselves on Uitkyk. It was a home where we built dreams and hopes for ourselves. In the end, the land remained, our love of the land grew, but we lost one another in what was to become a new South Africa”.
Another person who found her calling in life was Dineo Boshomane of Diepsloot, Gauteng. Reluctantly Dineo heeded the call of her ancestors through her grandmother, Pheladi Mapelo Boshomane, who died at the age of 112. She had man great-grandchildren but had a special bond with Dineo. When grandmother Boshomane died her spirit was resurrected in Dineo but it was a well-kept secret. Dineo had dreams and visions but the family believed that Dineo had demons.
After school and training to become a nurse she finally heeded her ancestral call and became an ithwasa, a trainee traditional healer. Today Dineo farms organic vegetables, and she says, it has changed her life. “She’s in a place where she feels she belongs. A place where she can communicate with her ancestors. Where she can speak to the plants. A place that rejuvenates her spirit. She’s home and has found solace.”
Another uplifting story is that of Nokamile Manjuza of NgCobo, Eastern Cape, better known as the Tobacco Angel. Nokamile says it was the tobacco plant that forced her to examine the answers to her questions about the meaning of life and death to which she clung. Tobacco unlocked new possibilities. Today, Nakamile makes about R900 profit every three months. “Not bad for an 87-year-old farmer, right?”
The stories in For The Love of The Land are for the most part inspiring and uplifting. Except for Anneliese Burgess, East London, Eastern Cape, who sounds a discordant note about the spectre of violence that hovers over the (white) farming community. “We must understand each other’s pain if we want to face the future together, but this does not mean that we should not stand up against the grotesque violence in this country.”
For The Love of The Land comes straight from the heart. And it gives another view of life on the farm. Not the stereotypical one the mainstream media reflect so often and misguidedly.