‘MY OWN HERO’
Of cabbages and kings – his dream was dashed, but this young farmer is growing a brighter future
Maths and physics tripped him up at school, but Siphosile Maseko’s granny pointed him in a new direction and he hasn’t looked back.
After his dream to become a forensic pathologist was dashed when his matric marks were not good enough to study medicine, Siphosile Maseko (29) turned to agriculture to build a future for himself.
Of his early medical ambitions, Maseko reflects: “Maths and physics, eish, these subjects tripped me up.
“I was sad for a long time. I didn’t know what else to study. Then my granny heard on a news bulletin on the radio that someone was talking about agriculture being a good job. She said: ‘I think you must go study agriculture.’”
He grew up in Keiskammahoek and went to high school in Quonce (formerly King William’s Town). Then, at Nelson Mandela University’s George Campus, he studied agricultural management.
“Agriculture wasn’t even my second or third option,” he notes, “but granny said we have land here. Give it a try.”
That news bulletin on his gran’s radio changed his life.
After graduating in 2019, he returned home just as the country went into Covid-19 lockdown.
“I was applying for jobs and was just receiving rejections left, right and centre,” he recalled.
“But then my uncle said he had two hectares of land…”
So, in lockdown, Maseko started growing cabbages.
“I drew up a budget for my uncle and he was impressed. He said, let’s go for it.”
They enjoyed good harvests but, eventually, when lockdown ended, his uncle had to return to his regular job.
“I was sitting here feeling miserable. I had no data, no airtime, no toiletries. But then I thought I can go drive taxis to raise capital to start again.”
If you are struggling with unemployment you must change your mentality. Get out of your comfort zone. Just start with something.
In August 2021, he started farming on his grandmother’s land.
“First I planted green mielies. But they were hit by hail. Cabbages were very costly. But I kept going.
From those small beginnings, he now has a field filled with 80,000 cabbages.
“I am now dreaming of a bakkie or a truck to take them to market. At the moment, I must hire someone. I grow the big cabbages; that is what the market wants. I plant 10,000 every month and I sell all of them.
He also takes mielies, when in season, and butternuts to market.
“One of the things that pushes me is that I want my own bakkie. Every morning I work for that bakkie, a truck and a tractor. If I don’t feel like working, I tell myself: I am going to buy that bakkie, that truck and that tractor.
“If you are struggling with unemployment you must change your mentality. Get out of your comfort zone. Just start with something – maybe poultry or chicory or another crop. But just do something.
Read more in Daily Maverick: A pond, a passion and YouTube help Marvellous Makhado escape the clutches of unemployment in Limpopo
“For me, agriculture is a way of life even though we really are struggling with load shedding and so on. I tell myself every day you have to stand up for yourself. When I grew up I had no intention of becoming a farmer so I don’t really have any role models, so I am my own hero. I believe in myself.
“In the mornings I look in the mirror and I say: ‘I am proud of you, boy. Last year you had 30,000 cabbages, now you have 80,000.’ I am praying for a bright future. I face so many challenges here, but the soil is good and we have irrigation.”
Maseko employs 15 permanent labourers and has sent 10 pupils to Nigel in Gauteng for a 12-month farming apprenticeship.
“Granny says she is very proud of me but she would still like it if I can get a ‘proper job’ with a company,” he laughs. DM
Youth At Work
Apart from rolling blackouts, the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa is arguably the most critical challenge our country faces. The first Statistics SA quarterly labour survey of 2023 recorded a youth unemployment rate of 46.5%.
The total number of unemployed young people (15 to 34 years) increased by 241,000 to 4.9 million.
In an attempt to be part of the solution, we at Daily Maverick have chosen learning and job creation as one of our key areas of focus. We will endeavour to find positive stories about young people who have found meaningful employment against all odds, who are creating job opportunities for themselves and others, and companies and organisations that are making an effort to give young people a valuable foot in the door.
Please email me, Heather Robertson, at [email protected] if you have any suggestions of youth employment success stories.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.