WHEN Cape Town based Zimbabwean, Albert Zinhanga migrated to South Africa in 2007, his intention was neither to teach or enter into farming but unbeknown to him 15 years later, this lucrative industry has catapulted him to fame in a foreign country to the extent of getting a rare special mention from former SA president Thabo Mbeki and international media attention .
“ I wanted to further my education but I couldn’t find a bursary so I ended up teaching,” says Zinhanga now an African languages teacher at Cravenby High School in Parow, Cape Town.
However Zinhanga and four of his friends from his university, Ignatious Matimati., Batsirai Magunje Walter Chimanga and Masimba Paradza are riding high on fame that started when they won The Small Business of the year award at the Cape Town Zimbabwe Excellence Gala Dinner Awards Ceremony in April this year.
Shortly afterwards they got special mention from Mbeki, as a shining example of fine farming, culminating into national and international media attention, a rarity in Mzansi, where non-SA citizens usually get media attention for the wrong reasons usually as criminals, or people who are a burden on the social infrastructure.
“ The publicity we got was just excellent. I think it’s one of the best thing that I couldn’t stop thinking. Remember we are foreigners here but every media in the whole world contacted us. It was just something I never experienced before,” says an ecstatic Zinhanga of a story that started when he and his friends went out looking for a cow to slaughter at N7 meat in Malmesbury in 2014.
According to Zinhanga they noticed some fallow land and asked the owner why it was not being utilized.
Apparently the owner said despite spending lots of money on the land it was proving unprofitable, saying that it was only suitable for animal husbandry.
But the men did not believe him and asked if they could farm it for free for a year, using his equipment and only paying for the electricity.
The owner agreed and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
“I started farming long time ago, remember in Zimbabwe we used to go to rural areas and do farming during school holidays. And with the help of my friends we share and researched a lot about farming,” explains Zinhanga whose partners have a Doctorate in Agriculture while the other three have degrees in Physics, Science and Engineering respectively.
As soon as they reached an agreement with the owner, who had said he had lost more than R300 000 trying to correct the PH of the soil at the farm.
But undeterred , the five men immediately got down to work, by first testing the soil, which they noticed had water but was rather sandy.
To deal with this Zinhanga says they watered the land continuously before planting three hectares of tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and maize. They also used cow dung to fertilize their crop
Upon the advice of neighbouring farmers, they were introduced to Cape Town Market to sell their produce, which also includes the popular Zimbabwean vegetable, Tsunga, and maize , whose stalks are so big that other farmers are stunned.
Now the men, who call themselves the N7 farmers, farm on 15 hectares and employ six people, as well as having won an award and a special mention by Mbeki.
“It has opened many opportunities, offers of lands to work on, partnership, markets for our produce and so on” says the father of two, who says he now has a busy schedule that leaves him with very little spare time.
Zinhanga says although they are still only supplying with Tsunga to the Cape Town market the good news for the Zimbabweans in the rest of SA is that plans are underway to deliver the popular vegetable around the whole country, where the locals donot eat it.
The N7 farmers are also planning to go international by exporting baby carrots and baby cabbages to Italy and Spain.
Despite riding on the crest of success Zinhanga says he still plans to go back home one day and do commercial farming.
“I plan to go home. I don’t have a time frame for now but surely I will go home and do farming at commercial level,” he says.
Zinhanga also has special advice to share with his compatriots, who want to succeed in the tough South African business environment.
“I believe Zimbabweans in South Africa can make it if they are given the opportunity and resources. The limiting factor is the resources. Remember as foreigners we don’t have access to loans.”
“My advice to my fellow Zimbabweans is when starting a business. First do a thorough research about the business and the market. Also start it small and grow your business gradually. There is no small money in business. In business there are lows and highs.”
“Expect both,” he warns. – Patience Rusere