Red meat transformation pioneer Aggrey Mahanjana calls it a day

The National Emerging Red Producers Organisation (NERPO) has announced the retirement of its founder and managing director Aggrey Mahanjana. According to the statement released by NERPO, Mahanjana has decided to take early retirement from April 1, 2021.

Mahanjana’s meteoric rise to the echelons of the red meat powerbase was both celebrated and welcomed by many. At the aftermath of deregulation of the marketing boards, he arrived at the Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO) as a ‘simple man’ to drive transformation.

Caged by the transformation demands, RPO propelled Mahanjana to venture out and establish a transformation arm of the organisation which gave rise to NERPO.

Tshianeo Mathidi, long-time friend of Mahanjana and livestock farmer from Limpopo, reminisces on the early days of NERPO establishment.  “People like me knew nothing about red meat value chain opportunities. I am from a village in Limpopo, and when we met Aggrey, he introduced us to the possibilities of farming commercially. Some took the opportunity and others expected to be fed these opportunities,” he says.

According to Mathidi, in the initial phases of the organisation, Mahanjana campaigned vigorously for communal livestock owners to be organised and served under one umbrella. Many livestock owners got introduced to breeding methods, animal management and markets. Quite brilliantly, he opened up networks previously reserved for white farmers only.

Part of Mahanjana’s lasting contribution to the sector was his passion for agricultural skills development. In 2003, he was the first in the agricultural fraternity to approach the Umsobumvu Youth Fund. At a time when the country was gripped with high levels of youth unemployment, over the 3 years, the fund managed to upskill 120 unemployed graduates. To date, over 400 graduates have gone through the NERPO conveyor belt with most working in government, business and academia as senior managers, entrepreneurs, commercial farmers and lectures. Names like Yethu Maxengana, Ndiliswa Maswana, Benjamin Mphahlele, Nano Mataboge, Kenielwe Williams, Lihuvani Mudau, Mohlobo Mbane and Brianna Mategane all come to mind.

“Aggrey has been fearless and tireless in his advocacy for the advancement of developing farmers of South Africa. Today, there are many young people in key positions of influence within South Africa’s agriculture as a result of the youth programmes that he drove personally,” said long-time director at NERPO, Dr Simelane Langa.

But not all his efforts are covered in glory though. Some sections of farmers lamented on the change of NERPO, accusing the institution of being run like a commercial wing, neglecting farmers’ agenda. Still today, NERPO has been unable to provide audited figures of farmers that have benefited from the red meat statutory levy.

Mathidi said the claims were untrue because NERPO submitted all its work and assignments on levies to the RPO.

“But where were those farmers when we held the AGM’s and called for meetings? Organisation and prudent performance characterises Aggrey, if you care enough about your growth, he will run and lobby for you. He has done so for so many people, unfortunately as humans we are never satisfied,” said Mathidi.

But for others, he served farmers through political wielding, using NERPO and the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) as a bargaining tool. Mahanjana apparently fought funds in government programs such as RECAP and CASP to be channelled to black farmers and the use of black service providers. No Minister went against the wishes of NERPO and AFASA, even organised agriculture called upon his loud voice plenty of times.

A classic example was the annual AFASA Transformation Conference he pioneered which boosted the attendance of the captains of industry, banks and the President of the Republic himself.

“Aggrey is a farmer first and advocate for transformation. I doubt when we talk about transformation there will be a person that will fill his shoes and take it further,” said Mathidi.

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