Phindile Zwane, the 2017 Township Entrepreneur Award winner with some of Bright Future Agricultural Co-operative Limited’s produce.
WHILE others might venture into farming with the hope of getting funding from the government to make it easier, Phindile Zwane is determined to one day make it as a commercial farmer with or without assistance.

Clad in her overalls and work boots, and with a beaming smile on her face, one would never guess the numerous challenges Zwane and her team members have had to endure to keep the Bright Future Agricultural Co-operative Limited going.

Zwane, her sister, mother and friends started their co-operative in 2013, turning the okra plant into decaffeinated coffee.

They were even awarded the 2017 Township Entrepreneur Award under the category of the Women Entrepreneur of the Year, which is hosted annually by the Gauteng Department of Economic Development.

Yet even with those awards in hand, department after department has offered her minimal help, business advisers have stolen equipment and sewerage continues to threaten her livelihood.

These were just some of the challenges revealed by Zwane and her team to DA MEC for Economic Development, Janet Semple, and DA constituency head for Ga-Rankuwa-Soshanguve, Janho Engelbrecht, during their oversight visit to the farm yesterday.

Zwane said attempts to get the sewerage fixed have been ignored as ward members have simply turned her back, saying: “You voted for the DA, tell them to fix it.”

The sewerage also had a negative impact on their produce last year as the sewage tested positive for E. coli, so they opted to try to use another portion of the eight hectares of land they are leasing from the City of Tshwane.

As if the lack of water and problems with sewerage were not enough, Zwane said they had been forced to try to make do without their own tractor.

They had been forced to rent one after a business adviser from the Small Enterprise Development Agency stole one meant for them.

She said the adviser, following the receipt of the money meant for her co-operative, purchased a tractor, but insisted he would fetch it as he had paid for it. When they questioned this he got upset, and said he had decided to give it to other farmers.

Zwane said: “I tried to contact the branch manager regarding the issue, but she defended him and even went as far as threatening to withhold further funding, so I just decided to let it go and work with what we have.

“It still hurts that he used our business name to get funding, and then decided to give the tractor to someone else. We were robbed by the very people who were supposed to help us,” she said.

Semple, following the visit, said they would investigate the issue regarding the theft of the tractor and the challenges of a lack of water, fencing and greenhouse.

“We have a hard-working and passionate group of women here who need support in order to get their co-operative, which provides seasonal jobs to township dwellers, off the ground,” she said.

She added: “They haven’t given up and want to be successful. We always talk about the need for entrepreneurs, but scarcely enough about the hard work that is needed.

“They are a shining example to all of us of that passion.”