Hard-working widow shows how its done

FROM NOTHING: Gladys Mkwhanazi (in the light green dress) with her family in Umbumbulu. PHOTO: SA Cane Growers' Association.
FROM NOTHING: Gladys Mkwhanazi (in the light green dress) with her family in Umbumbulu. PHOTO: SA Cane Growers' Association.

GLADYS Mkwhanazi is one of a handful of women sugar cane farmers in KwaZulu-Natal.

She is where she is today thanks to hard work and sheer determination. She is the proud owner of the farm Klipspruit in the Umbumbulu area. The 77-hectare farm is expected to cut 2256 tons of cane this season.

When her husband died in 1975 she had nothing, with nine children to feed.

She decided to do something about her fate and started vegetable farming on a two-hectare plot to put food on the table.

"My long-term vision was to make my family comfortable, expand the farm and educate my children," she says.

Mkhwanazi, 59, did not consume all her produce but took some to the market in Chatsworth.

At the market she used her vegetables as barter with other traders for second-hand clothing.

"I took the clothes back to the rural areas and sold it to the community."

There was more money in selling second-hand clothes since there were already enough people growing vegetables to supply the local demand. She managed to save enough money and soon expanded her two-hectare plot to 11 hectares.

She bought a tractor for R300 and two sheep. It was on a trip to and from Chatsworth that she was presented with a second opportunity.

"While I was travelling to town I noticed a trailer in a white man's yard," Mkhwanazi recalls. "I wanted the trailer since I had the tractor and knew if I had both I would be able to do work for other sugar cane growers in the area.

She asked the man if he would give her his trailer in return for her two sheep.

In no time the deal was struck. From that first tractor and trailer she now has approximately R700000's worth of equipment and a burgeoning cane-contracting business.

The business provides cane harvesting and short haul for small-scale growers in the Umbumbulu and Umzinto regions. Thirty-four small-scale growers have now asked for her assistance with land preparation and planting.

All of her children have been educated - two having qualified in civil engineering, one in mechanical engineering and another in industrial engineering.

Sizwe, her eldest son, says he owes a great deal to his mother.

"I know there is no free ride here and I have to work hard to make sure that I do my best to make this family business prosper," he says.

But pride of place in all Mkhwanazi's achievements goes to her new family home. From the small one-door, corrugated-iron roof dwelling, she now has a new double-storey family home.

The original home is now a store- room attached to a workshop.

Her success has also had a positive spin-off for her community, from which 60 full-time labourers are sourced. A further 18 seasonal workers are employed for three months of the year.

She is a source of inspiration to her community and shares with others. As a member of her church she assists bereaved families. She also regularly helps out with a 2000-litre water tank as well as giving out food.

Her future plans include the formation of a youth cooperative that is being registered.

"The youth should be empowered so that they can continue wealth generation and job creation in the rural areas."