Sizwe Manjezi’s love of cattle farming was inherited from his father who once ran 500 head of cattle not far from where Sizwe farms today. His father’s cattle venture was cruelly cut short at the time of Sizwe’s birth in the early 1930s. “My father lost the farm during the great depression,” says Sizwe, adding that it meant the end of the family’s commercial beef and ostrich enterprise.
Like so many Peddie-based Mfengu agriculturalists who made a name for themselves particularly in the late 1800s, the Manjezis had to scale down and their farming operation was transferred to a plot not far from the coastal town of Hamburg. The damage was significant, though. “We were impoverished,” says Sizwe.
Teaching – where it started
During these hard times, Sizwe’s mother had become disillusioned with the potential of agriculture and insisted that he become a teacher. It didn’t fit in with his father’s plans, though. “My father used to say that, ‘… my seven sons must stay here and do the work,” laughs Sizwe. In the end his mother got her way and he attended the mission college of Lovedale in Alice after which he completed a teaching qualification at Healdtown. It’s almost as though his mother had seen the bigger picture as it was only through the earning of substantial capital that a real shot could be made at acquiring significant land and stock.
In 1964 Sizwe enrolled at the University of Fort Hare to complete an advanced diploma in agriculture. He then returned to teaching. Years later he acquired a 7ha plot not far from Hamburg where he ran some stock, including cattle. Over the years he became a “weekend farmer”, continually experimenting. “I used to come home on Fridays to farm. I had crossbred cattle, but I was already practising a form of selection and always had great faith in the value of quality bulls,” he explains.
In 1991, after a lifetime’s contribution to education in the Eastern Cape, Sizwe bought approximately 900ha of land near the Peddie coast and decided to get involved in stud farming.
Choosing the breed
Certain events during his time as a smallscale farmer drew Sizwe closer to his ultimate cattle breed – Bonsmaras. He explains that during the drought in the early 1980s cattle in the area were dying, including two of his South Devon bulls. By contrast, a Ciskei National Development Corporation (Ulimocor) herd of Bonsmaras in the area was coping well. After careful research Sizwe decided on Bonsmaras. “I made my choice because Bonsmara weaners grow fast, their meat quality is good and they are not big animals which allows for easier calving,” he explains.
Sizwe says that Ngunis – the traditional alternative in this area – have marvellous attributes, specifically in terms of resistance to tick-borne diseases, but their drawback is their weaner weight. He explains that Bonsmaras are a fantastic alternative to Ngunis because they are bulkier, yet adaptable. Stud farming was a major change for Sizwe. “It’s very challenging, but enjoyable,” he says, adding that the ability to use information to improve the quality of one’s herd is most gratifying.
A superior stud
Sizwe established the Zondani Dilaza Estate Bonsmara stud in 1994 when he acquired 25 cows with calves and 15 heifers from the Ulimocor herd – the same herd that had impressed him so much in the 1980s. Over the years he has acquired bulls from quality Bonsmara studs across the Eastern Cape, including the Cloetedale Bonsmara Stud owned by Mike and Wayne Shuman and home to the 2006 Farmer’s Weekly/ARC Elite Bonsmara cow. Currently he markets about 12 bulls a year, mostly to emerging farmers across the former Ciskei and Transkei, which fetch prices of R10 000 and more.
Sizwe has some 20ha of maize, which he grows specifically to support his bulls in preparation for the market. Otherwise his almost 200 cattle run on the veld with support from production lick in winter. Sizwe normally dips his cattle fortnightly for tick-borne diseases, but he says he is currently dipping them weekly due to an outbreak of screw-worm. Weaners are marketed at eight to nine months and undergo a treatment regime before sale. Sizwe has recently been pooling with three more farmers to offer up to 200 weaners at a time to potential buyers like Karan Beef – who recently approached him to buy weaners.
Through the application of sound production principles and a determination to access the mainstream market, Sizwe has undoubtedly become one of the leading lights of the emergent beef sector in the country – he was nominated best national emergent red meat producer as early as 2001. It is fitting, then, that the National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (Nerpo) held their recent 10th anniversary celebrations on his farm. His cattle were shown to officials from Nerpo and the Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture, including the MEC for agriculture Gugile Nkwinti. “My farm is like a school,” he says, explaining how students from various agricultural training institutions complete their practicals on his farm. Sizwe is the embodiment of the successful transition from emergent to commercial farmer and has strong views as to how it can be achieved. Contact Sizwe Manjezi on 072 615 9550.
Becoming a commercial beef farmer
According to Sizwe Manjezi, it’s all about know-how. Knowing how to produce quality beef is of obvious importance. Thanks to his exposure to the stud industry, Sizwe has learned that knowledge drives production. Understanding and applying productive principles is primarily what commercial agriculture is built on, he says. He explains the knock-on effect of ignorance: “A man once had a big ox and when he realised it was old and likely to die, somebody else took it and fed it.
Later, when this man went out to buy a fat animal, he ended up buying the exact same animal he had sold in the first place. He did not know how to get it into that condition.” Sizwe believes that production know-how is the simple difference between success and failure. However, he says that understanding the market, its demands and the mechanics of the value chain is as critical as successful beef production itself. He explains that if communal farmers want to enter the mainstream market, they must adapt, for example by marketing significant volumes of weaners instead of older cattle suitable for traditional markets only. “Marketing means numbers and volumes – it’s not going to help to produce five calves in isolation. We have to produce as groups to create volume, as only then can you bargain.”
In turn, knowledge and quality production will surely go a long way in redefining communal stock for the better, he says. “There is still that tag that if you are from the homelands your product is inferior,” he comments. Private land ownership by black beef farmers is also central to making the successful transition to commercial beef production. “Private land tenure is the only way you can manage cattle effectively.” Despite having worked his entire life to acquire his own farm, Sizwe is still waiting for a title deed from the Eastern Cape Department of Land Affairs. Everything, therefore, still hangs in the balance for the elderly Sizwe, with government technically still being his major threat.