Johannesburg – The recent floods in Soweto are a stark reminder of the devastation nature can bring about.
It is also important to remind Soweto residents that they can overcome the devastation they have faced much like those in KZN did after the April 2022 floods.
Siyabonga (Siya) Ndlela is the founder of KZN agricultural business, Ndlela Agri Group.
Siya's farm and projects in Impendle, uMgungundlovu, KZN, have been developing steadily and he is very optimistic about what is to come.
In April, the floods arrived bringing devastation and causing havoc throughout KwaZulu-Natal. This act of nature threatened to put paid to all that Siya had worked towards achieving.
But Siya’s determination and resilience would not allow him to sit by and watch his precious start-up dream get washed away in the floodwaters. In his own words, this is the story of his survival against the odds.
By his own admission, Siya was ill-prepared for what would befall him and many others in the province.
“Of course, the flood came as a shock. I wasn't expecting it, and it completely caught me off-guard. But what can you do other than reinvent yourself in situations like these?” he said.
The devastation at his farm was not in vain for Siya focused on the positives he could take from the disaster.
“I used the floods as a learning opportunity. Yes, it was devastating in many ways, but it was an opportunity to do it better than I had before. For example, now I'm planting on higher land. The floods were a freak incident, but they taught me that I must always have contingencies in place.
“As an engineer and everyday entrepreneur, I believe in learning from my mistakes. The first thing that crossed my mind when the floods arrived was, ‘Why didn't I foresee this?’
“And I went to one of my friend's farms, which was also hit, to see what the other farmers were doing. Because he dug trenches in the right places, he didn’t have the same issue. That was a lightbulb moment,” he said.
With that being said Siya has taken a step back and looked at ways to improve his business. These were set up, and he implemented changes that will help his business grow steadily and eventually thrive.
“I had an extensive re-evaluation recently. Of course, I want the business to grow, but it can’t just happen overnight. I don't want to be in a position where I have customers I can’t service.
“At this stage, I’m taking it one step at a time and not overpromising to anyone. I would rather overdeliver. This is one of the most valuable things I learnt from my mentors and the network I have been able to build up,” said Siya.
He also credits his family for keeping him going in the face of adversity.
He said, “Not so long ago, the fencing broke, and cows wandered in. They destroyed my crops, and that was crushing. I got there, and half my crops were completely crushed, so I went to take them out and plant new seeds.
“I was about to start from scratch, but my mother said, ‘Leave them. You never know. They might grow back,’ and amazingly, about half of the crops did.
“I’m extremely grateful for my family’s support and advice. My parents are a great backup, and they believe in me. They are always supportive.”
Community is also close to his heart and he always takes time to advise aspirant entrepreneurs. Siya is also proud to be able to create employment for others as well.
“I currently have six seasonal workers planting as we speak, and I hope to create many more employment opportunities in the community,” he said.
Siya has been able to pick himself up from multiple setbacks and intends to soldier on and continue growing his business.
He said “I’m still amazed at the massive quantities I have been able to order 15 to 20 000 cabbage seedlings is a lot. If I had secured the land and put in the irrigation system I really wanted, I probably would have ordered about 30 to 40 000.
“But I have to grow within my means. My next step is building a dam because, for every farm, the main challenge is water.”
Siyabonga Ndlela is a true son of the soil and his desire to work the land has not diminished despite the curve balls life has thrown his way.
“I'm focusing full-time on my farm – my dream. Honestly, when I was working on other farms, it was just not quite the same. But working on my own land allows me to work on building my vision. I will keep on doing that for as long as I can,” Siya said.