Farmer’s Weekly story: huge-hearted Buhle graduate mentors 28 young women farmers

Farmer’s Weekly has just published the inspiring story of Linda Zwane, a successful livestock farmer who is convinced that agriculture holds enormous promise for young black women, and is dedicating most of his time to proving the point.

Linda Zwane, empowering women farmers in Mpumalanga

Livestock farmer Linda Zwane has his own farm to run but thought nothing of taking 120 young women to his farm, introducing them to livestock husbandry and mentoring as many as wished for his guidance.

His generosity, desire to pass in his knowledge and unwavering confidence in the opportunities for young black women in agriculture are reaping extraordinary rewards. After spending time at  Zwane’s farm, 40 of the women were extremely keen on farming. Of these, 28 gained scholarships from Monsanto through Khulisa Social Solutions to study a the Buhle Farmers’ Academy, and the Humulani Trust paid the considerable extra transport costs necessary for the livestock students’ practical training. The young women are now primed for success.


Under Mr Zwane’s guidance, they have formed a farming co-operative and applied to the Department of Rural Development for a farm. One has been identified, and the department is considering their application. The young women have every chance of success, says Mr Zwane, as they have been trained not only in farming by Buhle, but also in financial literacy, business management and the many life skills needed to farm as a collective, by Buhle and the NPO Khulisa Social Solutions.

Mr Zwane will continue to mentor the group, once they acquire a farm. The aim is that they obtain enough land for them to work in four groups of seven. One group will concentrate on beef cattle and goats, a second on sheep and dairy cows, the third on a piggery, and the fourth on vegetable production.

Mr Zwane was also the top achiever of his Buhle livestock class when he graduated in 2013. This year he was nominated for the “Star of Buhle” which was awarded at the June 2017 graduation ceremony at the Buhle campus in Piet Retief, for successfully building a farming business. As coincidence would have it, his mentees were graduating on the same day. He has also since received an achievement award from the mayor of Majuba district where he farms.

He regrets the fact that “our fore-fathers didn’t transfer their knowledge of farming to us,” he says. .

“I have three children, two of them adults now, and none of them are interested in farming. But there are so many opportunities for young black women in agriculture these days. I said to myself, ‘I must transfer all the skills I have to anyone who needs them.’”

The young women went to Buhle after taking part in a year-long Global Give Back Circle programme run by Khulisa Social Solutions. This was an education and empowerment programme in which they gain life skills, financial skills, computer literacy and other skills, and are mentored over time.  The idea was to empower the group to the extent that they embrace the programme’s “give-back” philosophy.

A friend of Mr Zwane’s wife put him in touch with Tine Cornellie, of Khulisa. After discussions with Tine, he offered to take the young women to his farm in groups, to assess their interest. “I thought at the time, ‘Even if I am only left with seven, I will be happy,’” he said.

Once at Buhle, 21 of the young women studied livestock production, and seven studied vegetable production. “Only one dropped out of their course at Buhle. The rest did very well,” Mr Zwane said. The young women who used to be a little afraid of hooves and horns are now unbeatable in the kraal.

The young women formed such a strong bond with their livestock trainer at Buhle, Gert Steenkamp –  who trained Mr Zwane, too –  that they refused to graduate until he arrived at the graduation venue. They even composed a song about him, which they sang in a jubilant dance at the ceremony.

“The youngsters whom I train don’t usually leap in boots and all. But really, I was surprised by these girls,” said Mr Steenkamp, who speaks three African languages and communicated with the young women in their home language, Zulu. “They were such hard workers that some of the men struggled to keep up. They are tough and intelligent, every one of them.

“My students all become like my kids, but this group was special. If I saw one struggle with something, I let her do it ten times. They have made me proud. There are strong leaders among them, and if they stick together, they will do well.”

Said Nelly Shezi, 25, one of the 28: “My life was an utter disaster just over a year ago. I have two children and was the breadwinner in my family, but I had been retrenched from my job as an electrical technician. It was difficult, very difficult.

“Now I am excited. Life is much brighter, and it’s getting better and better all the time. I thank Khulisa, Buhle, Mosanto, Humulani –  all those who helped me – for this.

“The co-operative is very good, because we work as a team. We bring up ideas, show each other things, and nobody is wrong. I love farming and I am not scared of animals and getting dirty, because success lies in dirty. I wish that other young ladies could see that agriculture is good, it is perfect. It can change our lives. It can change the economy.

“I want to say to other young ladies, ‘If you can push in agriculture, do it, because that is where the job opportunities are. If farming is what you like, too, then you really can do it!’”