Opening doors for farming boys

Founded on Christian principles and old-fashioned hard work, Zakhe private college trains previously disadvantaged boys to farm, and twice achieved a 100% matric pass rate. And by taking on Zakhe apprentices, farmers can help shape South Africa’s farm managers of the future. Robyn Joubert reports.
Issue date : 19 June 2009

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Founded on Christian principles and old-fashioned hard work, Zakhe private college trains previously disadvantaged boys to farm, and twice achieved a 100% matric pass rate. And by taking on Zakhe apprentices, farmers can help shape South Africa’s farm managers of the future. Robyn Joubert reports.

If we want good farm managers in the future, we have to train them ourselves. So says Howick dairywoman Judy Stuart, who over the past two years has placed about 15 boys from Zakhe Agricultural College – a small private scool in Baynesfield outside Pietermaritzburg – as apprentices with commercial farmers.

“The goal of my apprenticeship programme is to help boys become successful farmers,” Judy says. “Working farmers can offer these kids practical farm training – they can teach them how and why they do things in a certain way. This makes the boys so much more useful. The programme can make a real difference to the future of agriculture!”

Newly-appointed Zakhe headmaster Milson Hailstones says the apprenticeship programme plays a crucial role in exposing boys to the world of commercial agriculture. “It helps develop an agricultural mindset and understanding of what’s required to become a successful farm manager,” he explains. “Many people are looking at Zakhe with hope. They want our boys to succeed and become credible commercial farmers in their own right.”

Apprentices at work
On the farm, apprentices are normally accommodated in regular staff housing. They aren’t given, and don’t expect, preferential treatment – just to learn how to farm.
Father and son Miles and Dylan Eaglestone, beef and dairy farmers in Creighton, near Ixopo, have three Zakhe apprentices. They started with one young man, Kgotso Matevesi, who is being groomed for management and has been sent on dairy courses at Cedara.

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Kgotso was such a success the family took on two other boys, who are mainly doing tractor work at this stage.“Kgotso is a special guy,” says Dylan. “He’s in a league of his own. We’re hoping to get sponsorship from our suppliers to send him overseas to further his career, possibly to the US, New Zealand or Australia. He really pulls his weight around here.”

Overseas placements
The boys who’ve shown the most promise are considered for overseas placements. This aspect of the programme started in 2007, when Judy sent Sifiso Ntshiza to spend a year in Germany, working shoulder-to-shoulder with Andreas and Elizabeth Thiessen on their 120-cow dairy farm (Farmer’s Weekly, 12 September 2008). Judy called 22-year-old Sifiso a rough diamond when he went to Germany, and a polished gem when he returned. “The apprenticeship opened my eyes to the realities of life,” Sifiso recalls. “I learned to work long, hard hours without a problem. I also learned another way of life, how to work and save money. When you work alone with the boss, you have to make sure everything’s in top condition, because if anything goes wrong, you’re the one to blame.”

Anthony Galliers, a dairy farmer in Rosetta near Mooi River, snapped up Sifiso on his return to South Africa at the end of last year. “Things are going well with him,” said Anthony. “He just digs in and does everything, just like the rest of us. He got good experience in Germany.” After reading about Sifiso in Farmer’s Weekly, Clive Erasmus*, who used to farm Angora goats and dairy cattle in Adelaide in the Eastern Cape, sponsored a Zakhe boy to attend North Florida Holsteins, one of the US’s biggest Holstein herds, which offers a 10-month dairy course linked to a university. Students learn every aspect of a dairy operation before specialising for six months.

“My son Henry is attending North Florida Holsteins,” says Clive. “I thought of the huge benefit he’s gaining and wanted to give the opportunity to another boy. I think we all need to do something about getting more people in South Africa educated. If we can get more boys going overseas and returning with a management approach to business, the dairy industry will be in good hands.”Clive has never met Mzwandile Duma, the young man he sponsored, but hopes he’ll learn to run his own dairy and be “a shining example to our nation”.

Will it work out?
“Of the 15 boys I’ve placed, about three haven’t worked out,” says Judy. “One boy absconded, another took three instead of one days off to vote in the elections and was fired upon his return, and a third returned to his home town to be closer to his family.
“There is a risk with anybody you take onto your farm and I hope that those who don’t work, don’t spoil it for the good boys. There are thousands of uncut diamonds out there and they hold immense value to society.” Contact Zakhe Agricultural College on 033 251 0094, e-mail Milson Hailstones at [email protected], or contact Judy Stuart on 033 330 4322 or 083 555 0082 or e-mail [email protected]
* Name has been changed.     |fw