‘I have already started breeding Bonsmara cattle and my aim is to be a registered stud farmer by 21’
Sometime before the elections in May, Thabo Dithakgwe met ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa at a party campaign dinner and asked him to be his mentor “and he agreed”.
Months later, the determined and aspirant young farmer understands that Ramaphosa might not be able to be his mentor but he sees him as a potential customer in the coming years.
“He was elected president of South Africa and I understand that although he is a passionate cattle and game farmer himself, with his hectic schedule he would not even have much time for his own herds.
“By the time he finishes his term, however, I want him to find me having grown into a fully fledged commercial farmer and maybe he’ll buy cattle from me,” Dithakgwe said, with a chuckle.
Dressed in khaki farmer shorts and a matching short-sleeve shirt, veldskoen – traditional leather farmers’ boots – and a neat brownish bush hat, Dithakgwe is a young, determined, aspiring farmer armed with a will of steel who is striving to break boundaries.
“Some say I am the youngest black farmer at my level. But for me, I am running my own race.
“I am from humble beginnings and I am determined to get my hands dirty and make it big in this industry that feeds the nation,” he said.
This is the story of a young man from Morokweng, west of Vryburg in North West, who took total control and managed his family farm at the age of 17.
His father, Headman Dithakgwe, told City Press: “I am the luckiest parent ever to have a son like him. He is dedicated, focused and determined.”
Where it all started
Dithakgwe spent most of his early years with his grandparents who were subsistence crop and cattle farmers in Morokweng.
He started visiting their family farm outside the village when he was about four years old.
“I would sit and watch in envy as older guys rode horses and they would sometimes give me a short ride, making it the highlight of my visit. I hated it back in the village and could not wait for our next farm visit from the time we arrived back home,” he said.
“It was as I continued going to the farm that I fell in love with tortoises and doves, which I would take to our house in Vryburg, about 200km away from the farm, where I went to school.
“Living in a town did not change anything. I was there for school and could not wait for Friday so that I could get back to the farm where I spent my weekends and, although my parents were unaware, I was not there to play but learnt as much as I could over the years.”
When he realised that his son was hooked on farming and did not want to spend time in Vryburg with his friends, Dithakgwe’s father gave him a pregnant heifer when he was 13.
“It produced a male calf but the mother later died with her second calf … it was a painful experience for a fresh cattle owner but I was not discouraged. I sold the calf and with the proceeds bought two female cattle. Later I sold their calves and bought some more females. I am not proud or captivated by the sight of full kraals. I would rather sell what has to be sold and make money instead,” the young farmer said.
Thabo Dithakgwe took total control and managed his family farm at the age of 17. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
He was 17 and in Grade 11 when he told his father, a school principal, that he wanted to take over running the family farm which is close to Pomfret on the other side of Morokweng.
The elder Dithakgwe trusted his son and has not regretted his decision.
“I could see that he was ripe … actually he knew and today he is even more informed than I when it comes to farming.
“He was definitely the best man for the job. I supported him where I could with logistics but to this day he is the farm manager and totally in charge,” Dithakgwe senior said.
The farm-boy lifestyle
Dithakgwe’s Facebook wall sums up his lifestyle. He is all about farming.
Although his neat hair cut with a line might be deceiving, there are no pictures of him hanging out with friends at a party – just a string of posts showing best animal breeds or his own pictures in khakis and shared posts of informative stories on farming and the agricultural business.
“I am often on my phone but it is because I am followed on social media by equally passionate youngsters and they often seek advice from me. I hardly socialise on Facebook but rather use it as a communication tool where I share knowledge, learn and interact with others in the same sector,” he said.
Dithakgwe said some of his friends felt as if he did not see himself as a young boy.
“My peers said I behave like I am a grown-up man but that is just me … actually I hang around older people who are in farming mostly and learn from every interaction with them.
“It is not easy being me, but I feel different because I never want to be anywhere else but on the farm and with the cattle, goats and other animals,” he said.
“… And yes, I am always in khakis and overalls and would rather buy Veldskoen than sneakers because, with my lifestyle, you have to get your hands dirty and walk on the dirt, which can’t be done in sneakers. I do sometimes wear All Star Converse and jeans when I get time to go out with friends which I hardly ever do.
“Honestly, I am very quick to run away from friends who are not supportive of my lifestyle and dreams or those who are just bad company.
“I’d rather surround myself with older guys for mentorship. I do have friends who know that I have little or no social life beyond farming and see them when I get the chance.”
A former headboy at Kismet Secondary School in Vryburg, Dithakgwe passed his Grade 12.
He got an exemption for maths and science. His father wanted him to study law at university.
“I wanted to go into farming full time and it was a big argument, but in the end my father agreed for me to go study for a diploma in agriculture at a college in Potchefstroom.
“I am at school but feel as if I am at the farm because of the environment there – but I go to our farm every chance I get,” Dithakgwe said.
His father said he was happy and he was supporting his son all the way.
“I am an educationist and I would really want him to study further beyond a diploma, but he has his own dream and I will continue to support his wishes. He is a good boy … I am really blessed as a parent,” Dithakgwe senior said.
From an owner of his first cattle at 13, Dithakgwe today has a herd of 80 which excludes bulls and calves.
“I have my own method and I know what to buy, what to sell and when. On the other side I have already started breeding Bonsmara cattle and my aim is to be a registered stud farmer by 21 and already breaking into the top dogs in those circles,” he said.
Unlike others, he said his journey started with a gift of a pregnant heifer and he never looked back.
“Most of my white friends at college know very well that they’d walk out of the classroom and straight into a fully fledged farm that was readied for them.
“I am working on turning my dream into the reality so that one day I walk out of a classroom and into my own farm that I have built with my own hands,” Dithakgwe said.
“My mission right now is getting my own land, a farm with enough space to expand and start a proper breeding project but will always be attached to my family farm. All I need now is the land, space to prosper … failure is not part of my vocabulary and I strongly believe my future is nowhere but right here.”
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