In the small town of Amsterdam in Mpumalanga, a community of farm workers are finally building brick houses for themselves after farm owner Colin Forbes gave a portion of his land to his employees.
Forbes’ family has owned Athole Farm in the small town near the Swaziland border since 1860.
Seven years ago, he followed his father’s idea of showing humanity to their workers by giving away 10% of the farm to them.
He went on to provide mentorship and resources, including supplying them with the initial seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and diesel to operate machinery.
His generosity extended to training neighbours and workers on business management skills and giving them an annual profit share from the cash crop.
The 500ha piece of land became an agri-village for the community.
The community spent their profits on bricks and building equipment. Now, many are competing to build the best house.
Anton Maseko was born on the farm and is a second-generation farm employee, working as a tractor driver. He said his parents were also born on the farm, but they lived a hard life.
Through Forbes’ mentorship, Maseko now farms maize and potatoes and he used the profits to build his first brick house.
“It has helped me and my children immensely … It’s the first time I’ve stayed in a brick house.
“Living in this house has given me and children much joy and happiness. We were feeling oppressed, but now we are free,” Maseko said.
All it took was a sense of shared humanity and realising that farm workers drove productivity on the farms, Forbes said yesterday.
“My father recognised that a few guys can do better than earn a salary and be farm workers, regardless of their education.
“It’s a case of being proactive, pragmatic and practical. It is about interacting and becoming aware of our shared humanity.”
Farm owners have to realise their futures are linked to the futures of their workers, but government should also come on board to assist with funding farming equipment and other resources, he said.
“This mentorship costs nothing. It just makes you walk in the other guy’s shoes.
“If it is hard for you as a farmer it might be 10 times harder for your neighbour. Once you notice that, you will go further to help.”
Thulane Madonsela, who also benefited from the mentorship, is no longer in fear of living in poverty. He said Forbes’ training gave him the confidence to want to farm a larger piece of land.
He called on government to give land to those who can work it.
“When it comes to machinery, I know how to operate them 100%.
“But we are asking the government to come closer to the people in the rural areas and help with the production because people in the villages know exactly what farming is about.”
“Forbes taught me how to farm and now I grow soya beans, maize and raise cattle.
“And I can feed my wife and four children,” Madonsela said.