Share Their Story

Abueng Leepile

Founder and director
Bokamoso Abu Farms

Agricultural entrepreneur Abueng Leepile is the founder and director of Bokamoso Abu Farms in North West province. This flourishing agribusiness contributes to one of the country’s most vital food production value chains — growing various vegetables, including beetroot, butternut, peppers, chillies and onions.

For Leepile, the driving force behind her business is to provide healthy and delicious vegetables to the public.

Leepile says that she always had a soft spot for farming, but it was the realisation that South Africa was facing a food shortage that really stoked her fire.

Through her own research, she discovered that the average age of a South African farmer is 62. “[This meant] that within the next 20 years, more than half of all the farmers in South Africa would be too old to work, retired or deceased,” she says. This understanding inspired her to follow her dream of becoming a farmer and providing food to people within South Africa and beyond its borders.

Bokamoso Abu Farms has three permanent employees and on weekends and holidays, Leepile’s siblings and cousins pitch in to help on the farm.

“They are the most supportive people in my life and I’ve never been more grateful for anything. They are simply the best,” she says.

Leepile adds that one of her proudest achievements is being named one of the 100 South African Shining Stars for 2020 by Inside Education. Her journey to this point was not plain sailing, though.

As a woman entrepreneur in farming, she faced many challenges working in an industry that is dominated by men and is thus highly male-oriented.

“Resilience, determination and the help from my family make it easier day by day,” says Leepile.

One of the most valuable lessons she learnt was when she started operating the business.

“I didn’t have funding and hoped that I would get something, but it did not happen,” she says. However, through networking and idea exchanges, she took her mentor’s advice to start her small business with what she had instead of waiting for funding. “Start small, develop and grow — I used her advice and never looked back,” says Leepile.

If she could change one thing in South Africa today, Leepile says that it would be to see more women joining the workforce and having a seat at the table where high-level decisions are made.

“More women in agriculture will pave the way for a better future. It is our responsibility to empower the next generation of women to take on the challenges of the world’s growing food needs,”

she says.

Leepile wants to be known as someone who gave more than she took. “With hard work, discipline and consistency, young women — especially in rural parts of Africa — can build true wealth and systems to develop their society without having to depend on men for their livelihoods,” she says.

Her favourite quote is by former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “He who feeds you controls you.” Leepile believes that if we can feed ourselves, we’ll have control of our future and our dignity will remain intact.

Author - Alexander Brand
Gostina “Gabby” Malope

Gostina “Gabby” Malope

Principal and director
Toutele Agriculture College South Africa
Diploma in plant production, diploma in animal breeding, diploma in mixed farming

Gostina Malope believes that agriculture is the cornerstone of the South African economy and should be invested in as such. Rural upliftment through farming is one of the most sustainable forms of social development, she says.

As the principal and director of Toutele Agriculture College South Africa, Malope applies her passion for the sector by helping to bridge the skills gap among the youth in her hometown of Bushbuckridge.

In partnership with the agricultural, culture, art, tourism and sports sector education and training authorities, among other educational partners, the college offers courses leading to formal qualifications that will empower students to create employment through small enterprises or improve productivity in their existing businesses.

Malope holds diplomas in plant production, animal breeding and mixed farming and has extensive experience as a training facilitator.

She discovered that she has an innate ability to be a peer educator while working for non-profit organisation Siyaphila Youth Services, which focuses on HIV education and projects aiming to alleviate poverty. Six years later, she registered her company to offer her facilitation skills on a more formal level. After completing additional training courses, Malope had the opportunity to become a training specialist in farming, while also managing the farm where she produces crops.

Through Toutele Agriculture College South Africa, Malope has assisted more than 2 000 farmers and more than 5 000 young people. The college has also received recognition for several learning programmes in remote areas.

Various courses in agriculture, education and training, management, business and leadership, and hospitality faculties are offered through distance e-learning, contact and blended learning.

A tenacious student in her own right, Malope incorporates the intuitive knowledge she gains from her pupils into her own learning, for a more forward-thinking business approach.

“The process of training rural farmers to be commercially viable has also taught me a lot about respecting people who share as much wisdom as they do. They have such extensive and invaluable experiences on the subject, even though they didn’t have formal qualifications,” she says.

Malope’s commitment to the community in which she was born and raised has allowed her to conceptualise learning programmes that cater to specific rural needs. Beyond her acute understanding of running a farming business, her ability to make empathetic connections with others — having been a counsellor previously — breaks down boundaries of communication between her and her students.

That humility in her perspective is what makes Malope’s work even more impactful — the respect she has for agriculture and her ability to adapt to different environments.

“In my formal education and in what I continue to learn, is how to use agriculture to sustain families. Even seeing how much our involvement in our community has impacted lives has been life-changing for me,”

she says.

Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha |
Motlanalo Lebepe

Motlanalo Lebepe

Executive director
Nkuzi Development Association
Masters in development studies
University of Limpopo

Motlanalo Lebepe is the executive director of Nkuzi Development Association, a non-profit organisation that aims to aid historically disadvantaged communities by informing them about their rights and assisting them in gaining access to land.

In doing this, the organisation aims to drive land reform and enable rural and underprivileged communities to develop their local economies and uplift themselves. The business has been in operation since 1997 and has completed work in Limpopo, northern Mpumalanga and rural Gauteng.

Lebepe’s leadership has allowed the Nkuzi Development Association to succeed for over two decades and remain an important member of the International Land Coalition.

The farm dweller programme has been their most successful initiative, helping to raise awareness about eviction issues across both print and broadcast media. Moreover, the organisation has helped to ensure that the Occupational Health and Safety Act is upheld in rural communities, especially among women farm workers.

By offering legal support to farm dwellers, the Nkuzi Development Association allows them to take action against mistreatment and labour violations.

Lebepe has also been extensively involved in the educational aspects of the organisation, hosting workshops and training women to become leaders in their community.

In January 2020, the association hosted a training session that equipped 24 women from mining-affected communities with the skills that they need to negotiate better benefits from mining projects and remain active participants in decision-making processes.

Lebepe cites this work as her proudest achievement, saying:

“Rural women are capable of meaningfully engaging in land development initiatives when they have the necessary support.”

Inequality is undoubtedly a serious problem in South Africa, but many are all too happy to quietly ignore the systemic issues that reinforce it. Lebepe is not one of them — instead, she is driven to make a real difference for those who have the least resources in the country.

Her willingness to directly involve herself in the struggles of rural and underprivileged communities is a testament to the strength of her conviction.

Although each legal battle that Nkuzi Development Association assists with, and every workshop that they offer, is of incredible importance, their larger mission is to return the land to those who work it.

Championing a pro-agrarian philosophy that is strongly opposed to the exploitative practices used by companies to disenfranchise people who have been historically marginalised, Lebepe represents the kind of person South Africa needs now more than ever.

Her commitment to the cause has significantly helped communities and individuals, but what is most impressive is the larger impact her work has had.

There is a domino effect created through each person that she has empowered — from what they have learnt and experienced, they are able to educate and enable others who, in turn, can do the same, creating a network of people who are able to stand up to the corporate interests that seem determined to keep them poor and powerless.

Lebepe’s greatest wish for South Africa is “to promote, protect and provide independent land rights for women, especially on customary land and among farm dweller communities”.

James Nash |
Vuyo Mrwata

Vuyo Mrwata

Licebo Farming
Diploma in accountancy
University of Johannesburg

While we were all cooped up inside at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vuyo Mrwata found herself facing an additional hurdle: the country’s economic shutdown left her struggling to keep her first entrepreneurial endeavour in the beauty industry afloat.

Her business may not have seen the other side of lockdown, but Mrwata’s spirit never waned. Having learned a few lessons about the unpredictability of entrepreneurship, she came back stronger. Her goal? To build a “recession-proof business”.

Cut to the present day, and despite the pandemic’s setbacks, Mrwata has successfully kickstarted a new enterprise — Licebo Farming.

Mrawata spends her days harvesting a variety of vegetables and legumes along with her employees. Through her recent work, she has not only learned a new trade, but has also proven the value of her resilience.

“Although the journey wasn’t easy,” she explains,

“seeing the harvest from all the seeds I had sown finally coming to fruition has to be my proudest moment.”

Through her work, she has also sought to create jobs for other South Africans. After graduating from the University of Johannesburg with a degree in accountancy, she struggled to find a job, an experience many graduates share. Being able to expand job opportunities has been one of her biggest motivators.

By taking her life into her own hands, she’s simultaneously combatting job scarcity and working hard to positively affect the lives of others.

Despite all that she has achieved, Mrwata is no stranger to self-doubt, but she has refused to allow it to be a deciding factor. In an Instagram caption in which she reflects on her journey, she writes: “I had to talk myself out of thinking my first business was a failure and so was I.”

With therapy and support from her husband, she was able to bounce back and prove to the world that self-belief is crucial.

Beyond being a farmer and an entrepreneur, Mrwata is many other things — a mother, YouTuber, home-and-lifestyle blogger and beauty guru.

Between sponsorships, getting her children to school and harvesting her produce, she has a lot on her plate. Nevertheless, she takes the time to appreciate the moments in between, documenting them thoroughly through her photographs and blogs, and always prioritising her family.

She is a self-described “queen of planning”, constantly working on improving herself, forming new habits and gunning for “progress over perfection”.

At the core of farming is a balance of self-sufficiency and community, providing for oneself while laying the foundations that will support one another for years to come. Mrwata embodies these qualities.

She relies on her network and her family just as much as they rely on her. Through her values and her experience, she teaches us the importance of self-celebration.

She uses her story to remind others that starting something new and getting up again and again in spite of perceived failure can make all the difference.

Alice Sholto-Douglas |
Gugulethu Mahlangu

Gugulethu Mahlangu

Aquaponics horticulturist
Finleaf Farms and House Harvest

Gugulethu Mahlangu is an aquaponics horticulturist who grows nutritious, chemical-free food with Finleaf Farms, a scalable biological farming brand. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (the growing of fish and other aquatic animals) and hydroponics (the growing of plants without soil).
It feels as though Mahlangu was born to be in agriculture — her grandmother and great-grandmother farmed to support their families.
Although she took no interest in it at first, eventually her strong heritage won out and she is now the proud owner of House Harvest, a 14-hectare farm that boasts 10 hydroponic tunnels and produces leafy green vegetables in Boksburg, Gauteng. She is also the aquaponics horticulturist at Finleaf Farms, an aquaponics farm situated along the border of Gauteng and North West province.
The beauty of nature — and the independence that being a farmer allows — is what drew Mahlangu to the agricultural industry. She describes it as a “career that you can build from the ground up”.
Inspired by how the work of her hands feeds the community and profits her business, she is living a life that brings her joy and fulfilment.
As a successful “agripreneur” and a woman thriving in a sector that is dominated by men, Mahlangu has a lot to be proud of. She says her proudest achievement to date is starting #farmspacesafrica on Twitter Spaces.
By using the digital platform to connect with farmers in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she is building an agricultural community across the continent.

“What is so powerful is that agriculture is a universal language and we all get to impart knowledge to each other,”

she explains.

Coming from a line of women who worked the land, she wants more women and young people to get involved in agriculture, as she believes it can create employment and build a solid foundation for South Africa’s future.
Using her grandmother’s wisdom to keep herself disciplined, resilient and optimistic, she believes that “life constantly gives you lessons, learn from each and every one”.
When asked what being a woman brings to the agricultural space, Mahlangu notes how women look after their households and communities. “The way women think is holistic and collective; educating a woman is an investment into uplifting a community,” she says.
Mahlangu feels that she brings her experience and voice to the industry, as well as her drive to support other women with knowledge and skills, particularly when it comes to agritech and smart farming.
She wants women to know that they can have a career in agriculture and that there are opportunities including training and funding specifically allocated for black women.
Mahlangu describes the women of South Africa as “resilient, intelligent and nurturing”, and she wants them to be empowered with land and the skills to build a life of their own choosing.

Oratile Mashazi |
Nombini Zingisa Gono

Nombini Zingisa Gono

Project co-ordinator and founder
BSc in environmental science; honours degree in geosciences
Walter Sisulu University; Nelson Mandela University

Nombini Zingisa Gono, who hails from Port Edward in KwaZulu-Natal, has been making an impact in environmental, water and grassroots food production since obtaining a BSc in environmental science from Walter Sisulu University in 2013.

During her undergrad years, Gono participated in various campus clean-up campaigns and took on the mantle as a leader in the student church following her qualification with an honours degree in geosciences from Nelson Mandela University.

Gono’s research focused on water scarcity in Mzamba village in the Eastern Cape, which she chose to focus on when the lack of tap water in 2016 forced inhabitants to buy water from vendors. She approached youngsters in the village to help with data collection, which sparked their interest in practical science and how that can be used to find solutions to the problems people in the region face.

She is proud of her close working relationship with her community, and one of her proudest achievements was developing a vegetable plot with a widow as a demonstration of how to grow your own food in a small space.
While studying, she was a science communicator at the Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre, where she handled science exhibitions, shows and workshops for learners in conjunction with Nelson Mandela University. She also completed research on waste management to understand people’s behaviours and perceptions. From the findings, the centre drafted educational material on the economic benefits of good waste management strategies.
Gono started Macazinga in Bizana in 2018 and is the project co-ordinator. The business, with its apt slogan, Engage Inspire Impact, provides agricultural goods and services as well as environmental support services.

“The company brings solutions to our communities and environment — it creates employment opportunities, finds solutions to environmental issues and is a beacon of hope to those who seek inspiration.”

In 2020, she trained again, this time at the Mandela Bay Development Agency as education and programmes co-ordinator before becoming a volunteer at the Water Institute of Southern Africa’s Woman in Water initiative.
Gono and Macazinga’s influence in the sector was acknowledged three times in 2022, with the Water Research Commission’s Top 25 award, as a finalist in the TotalEnergies Top 15 Startupper Challenge for her social entrepreneur pitch and the GreenPitchSA award.
Gono says the Covid-19 lockdown taught her the importance of food production at ground level.
“It was during this time that most people lost their jobs and had nothing to bring to the table. That’s when I realised it is important for everyone to have a small piece of land where they can grow their own vegetables.”
The lockdown made her realise that, as a community, they must work together to grow their own food on available land, create employment and empower the community with skills.
What would she like to achieve for South Africa?
She longs for a country where everyone goes to bed daily with a full stomach and hopes for the next day.

Frans Meyer |