Soweto’s glory is elegantly captured in the archives of history. It has produced many accomplished politicians, poets, medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, entrepreneurs and hall of famers.
“Ja, beautiful history but we all cannot be these things you mentioned. Many of my mates do not know agriculture and where their food comes from” says Vusumizi Hlubi (32 years).
He and fellow childhood friend Lindokhule Sikhakhane (33 years) have experienced economic despondency since their youth days, and agriculture was their real-life job experience.
“Brother, Soweto is beautiful but there are many unemployed youths, some educated with levels of degrees but still cannot find work, what more about us that did not complete matric?” adds Lindokhule.
Both young men volunteered to be part of Zvezda youth agricultural training programme. A 12-month programme, it serves the purpose of agricultural skills transfer to township youth.
Siphiwe Zikalala, owner of Zvevda Game Lodge said it was hard in the beginning identifying township youth interested in agriculture.
“So, this one time I receive a call from Pastor Bheki Menyele from Soweto Calvary Worship Centre, who said there were two young men that were ready to try agriculture out as everything in their path to access the labour market failed” he says.
According to Zikalala, Vusumuzi and Lindokhule were not fired up nor excited to be removed from a township to a rural area it seemed.
Zikalala adds: “When we interviewed the fellas and met them, it was grim. The spirit said yes but the body said something else. We went into the induction of the agricultural training programme, still, they did not give us a positive response.”
The Township Agricultural Skills is a pro bono project spearheaded by Liston Agri-Solutions. It’s training manager, Carl Khalo said it was a common feeling for beginners to experience discomfort from the onset.
“We have facilitated and conducted numerous training programs for youth. The psyche is the same, some are from broken homes, others it’s because of years of unemployment, with few there and then suffering from depression. But I assure you, the minute they set foot on the field and work the soil, you would swear agriculture gave them new hope”
For Lindokhule, it was not a proper fit in the beginning but a behavioral shock.
“You are given theory, thereafter provided with seedlings and expected to till the soil. For a township guy like myself, it was boring. But, as time went by, you started seeing your crops grow, and then the bug suddenly hits you. I cannot explain the feeling brother.”
Vusumuzi perspective is somber. “Like you are awakened, having slept for the past 12 years idling around in Soweto doing nothing but township management. If agriculture is taken seriously at township schools, I shudder to think about the impact to youth unemployment rate. I have seen with agriculture; I will never go hungry at all and being unemployed – period.”
Both young men profess that the focus of township economy has solely been based on automobile, manufacturing, tourism, spaza’s, sports and arts.
“Agricultural information in Soweto is scare, you struggle. What we know about agriculture is food gardening and it is also not that highly promoted. But, to learn that just on a 1 ha of planting cabbage I can earn R200 000 – R400 000! I’ve acquired another respect for agriculture but honestly brother, youth from townships are really robbed” said Lindokhule.
The Gauteng Township Economy Revitalisation Strategy (2014-2019) promised to emancipate township entrepreneurs. A well-articulated document, under agriculture it took an easy approach focusing on crops and poultry but not incorporating urban farming in its strategy as a means to boost food security and create budding agri social entrepreneurs.
So, what happens after completion of the programme?
“Well, now that they have acquired all the necessary knowledge and skill, one of our stakeholders have allocated land to the two young men. They will also be capacitated with the necessary infrastructure and inputs plus ensuring the markets, and we have off-take agreements already in place” said Zikalala.
With a mere 3 months left, Vusumuzi and Lindokhule look forward to go back and plough to Soweto.
“As much as Soweto is vibrant and trendy, I believe if it incorporates agriculture in its DNA, it could open unspoken opportunities. Soweto must start moving into greening and we the generation to do it.” Lindokhule adds.
For Vusumuzi agreed fervently. “I know how to hustle and bustle, I am going to take all those we where in the struggle of unemployment with, train them on crop planting and hit every empty available space and turn Soweto as Lindi said into an agricultural hub of food”