Bleating the odds in rural Eastern Cape – young wool farmers prove getting ‘shed’ is a good thing

Bleating the odds in rural Eastern Cape – young wool farmers prove getting ‘shed’ is a good thing
MEC Nonkqubela Pieters (middle), Yonela Mtatshana (left) and Nonceba Jama are members of the Siyakha Woolgrowers Association. (Photo: GCIS)

With their growing flock of shaggy money spinners, young women are turning the tide in a time of scarce jobs – with some help from the provincial government.

Being able to sell wool from her sheep for good prices changed the way Yonela Mtatshana (32) viewed herself.

When she finished school and could not find a job she thought of herself as unemployable and desperate. Now her image of herself is as a successful small-business entrepreneur.

Mtatshana is one of a number of young rural women benefiting from a wool shed built by the Eastern Cape government.

She lives in a village in Ngcobo, a district with the youngest population in the province and which is the poorest and the most unemployed.

Statistics South Africa estimates that 55.3% of young people in the area are unemployed and this does not include the close to 5,000 who have given up looking for work.

But Mtatshana and her fellow sheep farmers are turning the tide and have been given a helping hand by the provincial government, in the shape of a shed with dipping facilities and equipment for sheep farmers in the district.

“Before we were shearing the sheep and selling the wool in the streets to those vehicles collecting wool, but we noticed that they were paying us a very small amount of money,” recalls Mtatshana.

“Now we have a shed, we do better. We had no working equipment but now we can work and we can go forward. Now we can feed our families.”

Both Mtatshana and Noncedo Jama (34) took up livestock farming after their efforts to find jobs proved fruitless.

Mtatshana owns 44 sheep.

“In livestock farming, you are able to grow and sell sheep and get money for survival. Before this multipurpose shed was given to us we had some challenges because we did not have all the required machinery and we did not have a dipping tank. Now we do. We will be able to dip our sheep and vaccinate them at the time of vaccination. This will improve our wool quality,” she explains.

Jama says her family has 108 sheep at home. “I love sheep. I grew up with them and I have always looked after them well.

“This shed means a lot to us,” Jama added. She said the family was also still using a shed at home built by their parents.

Read more in Daily Maverick: A pond, a passion and YouTube help Marvellous Makhado escape the clutches of unemployment in Limpopo

“Often we see young people with nothing to do. They just stay indoors. Now we can help them to get into the wool business.”

The chairperson of the Siyakha Woolgrowers Association in Nqancule Village, Xolile Jezile, reveals that in the last season shearing sheds across the Dr AB Xuma Municipal area contributed 170,000kg of wool – the bulk of it sold to wool brokers.

The provincial MEC for rural development and agrarian reform, Nonkqubela Pieters, says the department spent R1.2-million on building the shed.

 “For any investment, there must be a return, the returns are not for the government but for farmers. If we have invested R1.2-million into this shed, farmers should be able to multiply that amount in income,” she says.

“There are good young farmers who are doing well. Farming is not for older people. We need more young people in agriculture.”

Agriculture has been flourishing in the Eastern Cape and was described as the province’s “comparative advantage” by premier Oscar Mabuyane in his state of the province speech in February.

“We want to increase the contribution of the sector to the GDP and create employment opportunities for our people,” Mabuyane remarked.

“Our programmes to support farmers continued in 2022. We completed 91 infrastructure projects benefiting 1,549 smallholder farmers and created 921 jobs. In the new year, we are scaling up by investing R139-million in 184 infrastructure projects that will benefit 3,132 smallholder farmers in our province,” he added. DM

Are you a young person looking for employment or working to establish your own business? We would love to hear from you. Send us your pictures depicting your job search and images of you celebrating if you found one or opened your own business. Tell us your story of turning the tide on youth unemployment by sending an email to [email protected]

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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