'It is very important for us blacks to venture into farming and make it fashionable'
He does not remember battling with the hips, but out of the blue, he was in serious pain and the doctors advised hip replacement surgery.
He’s up and about now, in rude health.
This is the kind of excuse many would need to fall into a state of dependency on others and charity - not Tshivhase.
He runs a thriving 10-hectare farm about 3km from Thohoyandou, the capital of the former Venda homeland.
He was born and raised at Khalavha village under Chief Mpfuneni Tshivhase and growing their own food has always been a family trait, he says.
“Every household used to have a backyard garden,” he says, “that’s how I learned the basics of agriculture.
“My passion for farming comes from my father, Shavhalwau. He is one of the first black people to have litchis and avocado trees in their backyard.”
Tshivhase is the third of seven children - all boys except their eldest sister, he says.
He avoids reference to the hip surgery, like it was a bad thing. Understandably; he is a jovial character who is likely to see the plus side of every dark cloud.
“So,” he says, moving right along, “in 2014 I started to focus on advancing my passion because farming is all about passion, not ‘a get rich quick’ scheme. It is an inborn thing. I just decided I was wasting my time in government earning a salary. I wanted to create more jobs, to feed our nation.”
A qualified electrical engineer with an N6 certificate, he started working for the government in 2004 as a community development worker; work he describes as a bridge helping government take services to the people.
He never got to use the Soshanguve Technical College electrical engineering qualification - but he is not complaining.
After settling on the farm, which he is renting to buy, Tshivhase got to work: “I plant different crops, cabbage,sugar beans, spinach, peppers.”
It is a whole basket of food.
“I supply local retailers, like Spar, Choppies and Boxer. We also have hawkers making house deliveries of our vegetable combos.”
It is disheartening - though Tshivashe’s vocabulary does not have the word and its negative connotations - that giant retailers Pick * Pay and Shoprite chose to put hurdles in the way of doing business with the emerging farmer rather than trade with him.
“We got a problem with Pick n Pay. They stopped buying from us. They wanted my vendor number. We wrote to them, repeatedly. But to no avail.”
After this debacle with red tape, Tshivhase says he was also entangled in another knot over paperwork with Shoprite. Shoprite would only do business with him if he agreed to deliver his produce to their depot in Polokwane, 200km away.
“It doesn’t make financial sense. There are four Shoprite stores in the vicinity of the farm. One store is 4km from me in Thohoyandou. I suggested that some produce, like spinach, is best delivered fresh.”
But the decision-makers clearly had other plans. Subsequently, Tshivhase lost out on this lucrative deal.
He says it boggles the mind that these large supermarket chains claim they support PDIs (previously disadvantaged individuals), when all he sees is them doing all they can to frustrate the efforts of small farmers to do business with them.
He insists on delivering his produce fresh to the shelves, and the plate.
“I also take my products to Tshwane and the Joburg Market - I take seasonal chillies, green beans; it depends on the season. This year we were disturbed by Covid-19. Our area is frost-free during winter. In winter that’s when we work hardest, productively.”
The farm employs eight locals and offers seasonal jobs during planting, weeding and harvesting: “They are locals from a village next to the farm.”
Besides his green fingers, he is diversifying into livestock: “I have also started livestock farming with goats (86), sheep (32) and some pigs. We’re trying our best; we’re not selling to the abattoir yet.”
Tshivhase says goat meat is becoming a luxury to people. “Goats are scarce.”
He will not be dissuaded by the difficulty of acquiring government funding. He hates the corruption attendant to this funding. “We’re not getting any. It is very difficult. Even the relief fund. We gave them all the documents they needed. They have promised to get back to us. Nothing has happened so far. There are people who have got the funding but they are not farming.”
But he repeats his mantra that farming is a passion. And this is enough to spur him on. “That’s my programme in life,” he says.
The biggest challenge in farming is land, Tshivhase says. “Our livestock depend on communal land. Our breed is compromised because they just mix with different others in kraals or herds. We need more land so we can be able to feed the nation.
“It is very important for us blacks to venture into farming and make it fashionable,” he says.
The Sunday Independent