‘We read Farmer’s Weekly in prison’

Farmer’s Weekly recently had the privilege of chatting to President Jacob Zuma in arguably one of his favourite places in the world – his cattle kraal. While examining his cattle, he relayed his love of farming to Lloyd Phillips.

- Advertisement -

As President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma is understandably a busy man. But he is also a proud Zulu, having been born and raised on the often hot and dusty aloe and thorn tree covered hills of rural Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal. His traditional homestead is on the side of a slope, with magnificent views of the area, and according to his friends, the president visits Nkandla whenever the opportunity presents itself.

He was recently there to officially launch the Nkandla/Mlalazi Initiative – a project spearheaded by himself and a close friend in Nkandla, Deebo Mzobe, that aims to use agriculture to create food and economic security for these two poor communities.
Farmer’s Weekly spent some time with the president in his cattle kraal while he consulted with Ross Malcolm and Lizelle Schutte, both directors of Midlands Veterinary Wholesalers (MVW) in Mooi River, and one of the province’s most respected livestock vets, who asked to remain anonymous.

They help President Zuma improve the health of his 101 head of mixed-breed beef cattle and are also private sector advisors on animal health issues for the Nkandla/Mlalazi Initiative.President Zuma arrived at Nkandla in a cloud of dust when his Air Force Oryx helicopter touched down at the homestead. Arid at the best of times,Nkandla was desperately dry and dusty before the first spring rains.

- Advertisement -

After greeting his immediate and extended family at the homestead, the president headed straight to the cattle kraal to check on his beloved cattle and to hold an informal meeting with the vet and MVW representatives.Smartly dressed – and temporarily between bouts of handling critical affairs of state – he adroitly dodged cow pats and stopped every now and then to inspect individual animals and get an update from his herder and nephew, Siboniso Zuma, on how they were doing.

He expressed concern about the effects the severe lack of grazing in parched Nkandla was having on the animals, but was pleased to see the deworming and vitamin injection treatments, together with the feeding of hay bales and vitamin licks, recommended by MVW and the vet, were having a positive impact on his cattle.

On being introduced to this Farmer’s Weekly journalist, the president laughed infectiously and told how, as a political prisoner of the apartheid government, he and his fellow inmates loved to receive copies of the magazine, which was considered a safely apolitical publication.“The first parts we looked at were the pictures of the cattle because they reminded us of home,” he explained. “Then we would quickly skip to the back pages to read – what’s it called? – the lonely hearts column,” he said, referring to the Hitching Post. “We missed women while we were in prison, so that’s why we loved to read it.”

To farm is a dream of his because he grew up in conditions of subsistence farming, he added. “I come from the village, and I love it. And I believe that today, with the growth of the population and the levels of poverty, farming is one of the big answers and I’m very passionate about it.” Had he grown up in another environment he probably would not have the same appreciation and respect for people, he said.  “It makes me appreciate nature… appreciate stock… appreciate people. It also conditions you to respect. You know how to respect other people, you know how to care for other people, you even know how to care for animals.

“As a small boy, even if you came across a snake, you didn’t think that this must be killed immediately. You had some feeling for it – a feeling which is really human and caring. But you also know that you need to be independent, to be able to depend on yourself. You must use the soil to survive.” President Zuma said he particularly loves his Nguni cattle. “They are beautiful animals. I don’t have any particular favourites, because I’m too busy, and I don’t know the herd so well. But I used to have some huge bulls that I loved, and that I knew very well.”

His favourite Nguni colour, he said, is black and white. In Zulu, he added, an Nguni with big spots is called ilunga. If has many small spots, it’s imakhifikhifi. President Zuma finished off by saying he would love to spend a far longer time talking to Farmer’s Weekly about farming one day, perhaps when he’s retired from politics and is living full-time in Nkandla again.