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Simple kindness and the story of two boys, one white and mentally disabled, the other black and an orphan, showed how SA’s land reform could play out if individuals worked together for their mutual benefit.
The story begins years ago on a remote farm outside Dundee. Bheki Zwane, an orphan of about 12 years old and with a Standard 2 education – arrived on Krantzkop farm to live with his labourer uncle.
Farmer Kenny Robinson and his wife, Sylvia, recogni-sing the trauma in the youngster’s life, gave him chores to |do around the farmyard to keep him busy.
It was only a matter of time before the couple’s middle son, Leon – about 10 years old at the time and born with a mental disorder – and the young Bheki met.
The two became instant friends, with Bheki taking the small white boy – who could not read, write or count – under his wing.
“I taught him how to ride horses. I taught him how to drive the tractor, and we worked together around the farm all the time. He can’t speak Zulu, but he understands everything I say,” says Bheki.
And Kenny relates a story of how he went to fetch a combine harvester from a neighbouring farm one night when the boys were teenagers.
“My neighbour persuaded me to stay for a beer. The next thing I knew, it was late and the boys were missing. I jumped in my bakkie to find them.
“They were almost home, Bheki driving the combine harvester, with Leon tucked between his lap and the steering wheel.
“Bheki will ask Leon to count the sheep and he will – as long as there aren’t too many of them,” laughs Kenny.
When Bheki came of age, the farmer – as a gesture of gratitude for the boy’s kindness to Leon – gave him a heifer from his herd of beef cattle.
“The heifer matured and I realised it wasn’t as good a beast as I originally thought. I suggested to Bheki we sell her and buy him something better. He agreed.”
Soon Bheki was selling and breeding with the progeny of that cow.
“We were selling our car. Bheki came to us and offered to buy it. I told him it was old and in need of repair. But he was determined. He used the profits from his cattle sales to replace the engine. He still drives that car today.”
Slowly but surely, Bheki, who is now 40, has increased his herd of finely bred beef cattle to nearly 100. He also owns a flock of sheep and goats, which all graze together with Kenny’s herds and flocks.
Last week, Bheki took The Mercury on a grand tour of his spacious home, which stands proud on a hill overlooking the yellow plains and the grazing herds. Every brick, every tile and every slap of mortar was paid for through his astute trading in livestock.
And as a little head with big brown eyes peeps around the corner, with a nod Bheki tells us he is saving every cent now to send his two children to the school in Dundee.
“I will pay for them to go to college, to university,” he says.
Kenny says: “This is the solution to our failed land reform policies.
“People like Bheki should be on the land. He is the kind of person the government should be helping. That’s what we need – the right people on the land.”
And as for Leon, who stands quietly by?
“Bheki is my best friend. We’ve always been friends. We are always together,” Leon smiles, shifting his body weight to give his statement emphasis and nodding his head.
“He’s my friend for life.”