From gardener to Farmer of the Year

Ponki Makanita has recently been crowned as Breedplan Emerging Farmer of the Year in Bloemfontein. Wayne Southwood reports on his remarkable journey from gardener and lorry driver to successful top farmer.

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Ponki Makanita has recently been crowned as Breedplan Emerging Farmer of the Year in Bloemfontein. Wayne Southwood reports on his remarkable journey from gardener and lorry driver to successful top farmer.

Ponki Makanita runs a slick operation in zeerust in the Groot Marico district in North West. He farms with 200 mainly Brahman-type cows on the 2 391ha Klipbult farm. Thirty cows are registered stud Grey Brahmans that he bought from Loriza Brahmans in Litchenburg. Ponki is ­breeding a medium-framed cow that must calve every year without any ­problems. He rotates between four camps and says his cattle ­prefer the sweet grasses. ”You must be careful that they don’t overgraze the sweet grasses and move them before they graze the grass too low,” he says.

Humble beginnings
Ponki was born in the Groot Marico district, and like many other youngsters went in search of work in Johannesburg. In 1965 he was employed as a gardener. He soon realised this was a dead-end job and obtained a heavy-duty vehicle licence.

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Then Willy Weatherburn, a local truck owner and Ponki’s employer at the time, made him a proposition. If he was willing to fix one of Weatherburn’s broken lorries, he could drive it for R3 a day. Ponki jumped at the opportunity and ended up driving the lorry for almost five years thereafter, and saving as much money as he could.

In 1969 after having saved for a while, he asked himself, “What should I do with this little money that I have saved. Should I put it in the bank, or should I buy a cow?” His final decision was to buy a heifer from a local farmer for R49. He realised that one cow was not enough and two years later he managed to buy another five Brahman cross-type heifers and a bull from local farmer Jan Grobelaar for R100 each.

This was around 1978 and Ponki was running his cattle on communal land. He wanted more control of his cattle and grazing, and decided to lease some land. He leased a farm at a good price from a nearby landowner, Mmaseemane Megwe. For the next seven years he ran his cattle there and bred with a three-quarter Brahman bull. He employed the landowner’s son to look after the cattle while he continued to work in Johannesburg.

”The problem with leasing land is that you can’t just do what you want – you have to ask first. I often wanted to fix fences and solve problems at the farm, but realised that it would be a better investment to get my own land,” says Ponki.

Then he met a local farmer, Mr Swart, who encouraged Ponki to transfer his cattle onto his farm Silkaatskop, knowing that the then Bophuthatswana government was intending to expropriate the farm. Later, Ponki leased the farm from the Bophuthatswana government. But 18 months later drought forced him to return to the communal farm for a while.

Proving his farming competence
In 1984 Ponki and three other farmers leased a farm from the Bophuthatswana government on a monthly basis. Later, the government officials called them in for what he says felt like a 45-minute interrogation to establish the competence of each farmer.

”There were six people who asked us about cattle health, veld management, marketing and many other tricky questions,”
recalls Ponki. ”They asked me so many questions that it made me tired. When I stood up to leave the room I didn’t know where the door was.” About a month later he received a letter from the Bophuthatswana government stating he was eligible to lease 3 000ha of land for seven years and only thereafter would he be able to purchase this land.

He leased the 2 391ha farm Klipbult and in 1993 he made enquiries about the price of the farm, even though he knew he probably couldn’t afford it. At R700 000 it seemed as if the farm was out of reach. But he persevered and managed to pay a deposit of R100 000 to Bophuthatswana’s Agribank with the balance financed by the bank. But Ponki was constantly worried about the debt and accumulated interest. For peace of mind he decided to sell some cattle to settle his debt. ”Even if I had only 10 cows left, I would rather pay the bank. They gave me 20 years to repay the loan, but I paid for my farm in three-and-a-half years,” Ponki says proudly.

In 1995 a land affairs commission of enquiry investigated how he had acquired Klipbult. More questions and an affidavit stating that the information he had provided was true followed, and in the end Ponki remained on the land where he is still farming today.

Future marketing plan
Today he has a large market for heifers among local black farmers. Once he selects the replacement heifer, the rest are available for sale from the age of eight months at prices from R3 500.

Stud heifers are sold for between R4 000 and R5 000, depending on the sire. He puts the stud bulls through an on-farm testing for a year to determine which are the best. Those are then kept as herd sires and the rest are sold to local farmers or for slaughter.

Contact Ponki Makanita on 082 568 2462. |fw

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