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Former Isibaya star Thandeka Qwabe goes back to her roots with farming

Qwabe hasn't given up acting ambitions

Former Isibaya actor Thandeka Qwabe.
Former Isibaya actor Thandeka Qwabe.

When Isibaya was canned a year ago, series regular Thandeka Qwabe’s world came crashing down.

Back to the long audition process and coping with rejection, she told herself. That nightmare soon became a reality for Qwabe.

But unbeknownst to her a serendipitous discovery awaited around the corner. 

The Mzansi Magic show had given the 27-year-old actor her big break in 2017. For three years, television viewers had fallen in love with her as Bhekumuzi’s (Melusi Mbele) love interest Thandi, a role she landed fresh out of varsity.

When the show abruptly ended, Qwabe sent me a text, questioning her decision to follow her heart and defying her parents’ warning that she takes a more secure career path.

“This industry is really not consistent and you can’t rely on it. Degree or no degree for the arts [it’s all the same],” read the text.

“If I knew, I wasn’t going to go to varsity,  spend four years [to] get my honours and still I have to go through this,” she poured her heart out.

The Eshowe-born, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, obtained her drama diploma at the Durban University of Technology and later her honours at Tswane University of Technology. In her final year, Qwabe eagerly wrote to the producers of Isibaya and The Queen, begging to be featured on their respective shows. Isibaya opened its doors to her and the starlet launched her career in front of the camera.

Thandeka Qwabe on the farm.
Thandeka Qwabe on the farm.

“I’m grateful for my parents that they can always catch me when I fall. The conversation I had with them was that this is a big lesson and if anything should happen to them, who is going to catch me? That’s when I got a wake up,” she said.

“I found myself not in a good space, where I was sad and depressed. I had to make the decision to move back home because being in Joburg didn’t make financial sense. “

After weeks of licking her wounds after moving back home, Qwabe remembered another dream she had shelved.

Raised by her grandfather Phineas Sibisi, who averaged a herd size of 300 cows, Qwabe returned to her roots. Around June she started a vegetable farm (about 195 hectares in extant) in Umzimkhulu, southern KZN. She currently employs 10 workers.

“I remember before my parents married, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. He had this red tractor and I would always sit on his right as we drove to his farm,” Qwabe recalled.

“I would then chill by a guava tree, as he did all his farming. It was a peaceful period in my life.”

After months of research, at the end of October, she started with the seeding process. Her initial plan was to grow cabbages and spinach.

“In the beginning I applied for funding, but there was no response. So I started with the little money that I had. My cousin, who is also in farming, connected me with the right people,” Qwabe said.

Thandeka Qwabe.
Thandeka Qwabe.

“I started going to seminars and I felt alive when I was in that space. The land was very raw, so I had to start from the process of getting the soil right with chemicals and getting the soil tested.”

While she’s now getting ready to harvest the cabbages (about 30,000 per hectare) later this month or early next month, unfortunately the spinach couldn’t withstand the dry weather conditions.

“I spent a lot of money on it. There was a time there was no rain for like two weeks and the water pump also had to be serviced because I get water pulled from a river,” she said.

Now that she is in a better place mentally, Qwabe hasn’t given up on her acting ambitions and has returned to auditions. She also plans to explore the lifestyle farming world with dreams of building a boutique hotel on the land with bike adventures, horse riding experiences and hopes to host a bushfire-style festival in the future.

Thandeka Qwabe’s five farming tips for beginners:

  1. Learn to let go and start again. I was frustrated when I was told that it was not going to work with the spinach. I kept pushing and bought chemicals hoping the spinach will recover. I ended up spending more money, instead of accepting that it’s OK to let go.
  2. Involve a lot of experienced farmers and learn as much as you can from them. It’s going to be challenging in the beginning, but having a mentor will help.
  3. Be physically there. There was a week or two I was not able to go to the farm and I missed so much. My mentor told me if I’m not there, then the farm belongs to someone else.
  4. Be patient. I took for granted the amount of work that goes into it. I didn’t think that before you even start, there is a specific chemical that prepares the soil.
  5. Get an accountant. In the beginning I thought, I’d handle payroll and all the money myself. There were a couple of things that went wrong with that thinking.

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