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Trained nurse rises to farming challenges in the Eastern Cape

12 November 2018
Trained nurse farming

Mismanagement, financial negligence and a severe drought almost cost Eastern Cape livestock farmer Nomvuyo Feni her farm

The 63-year-old Eastern Cape farmer from Alice bought her Westondale Farm with a business partner in 2009 but their relationship soured, and the two went their separate ways in 2014, prompting her to venture out on her own.

“There were problems with my previous partner – the high court was involved, and the department of rural development & agrarian reform is aware of what happened,” Feni said.

From a humble nurse to Eastern Cape farmer

The mother-of-three grew up in a family of small-scale farmers in Alice where her parents grew vegetables and kept cattle. Recalling her upbringing, Feni said her family never bought anything other than sugar and cleaning supplies from the shops, and that was the reason she eventually ended up becoming a farmer. A nurse by profession, Feni said that when she met and married her late husband, she found someone who was just as passionate about farming as she was.

“I married someone who loved farming, and we ended up leasing various properties so that we could farm full-time,” she said.

Purchasing her first farm and then nearly losing everything

In 1990, Feni and her husband bought their first farm and ran it together until he died in 1996. While she was still mourning his death, their farm was claimed the next year through the land claims process. Eventually, Feni agreed that the then department of land affairs could buy the farm from her and it was sold in 2002.

“I was gutted because we lost a lot,” Feni said.

“We lost stock on the farm. We had to rush and hold an auction, sell off whatever we could, because once there’s uncertainty from workers who feel they are losing jobs, there’s an element of stealing too.

“I felt people also took advantage because of my husband’s death, because we’d been living on that property, among those people, for seven years,” she said.

“Our lives were also in danger, so we didn’t have a choice but to give up our farm.

Starting all over again

“It was a tough time.” Feni now leases Westondale Farm from the government but said that when she started, she took out a loan to buy 1,000 sheep and 28 cows.

She said due to the fall-out with her business partner and the crippling drought – which caused most of the sheep to die – she had to start from scratch when she took full control of the 6,000ha farm in 2014. Today, Feni owns 1,063 sheep, 206 cows and 199 goats along with several chickens and pigs on her vast property.

A typical day for Feni on Westondale Farm

A day at Westondale starts at 5 am with the feeding of chickens and pigs, before checking on water supply at the different animal camps, over a vast area.

“Being out in the Karoo, water is very important, so we have to check every day.

“We’ve got boreholes, so if a windmill doesn’t work properly and a pipe has burst, you’ll find our cattle standing around aimlessly,” Feni said.

“We also have to check daily that our electric fences and solar panels are working so when the sheep are lambing they are protected from jackals.”

Feni back on her ‘farming’ feet

With the farm now in the control of Feni and her two sons, she said they were slowly making a profit, some of which was going towards repaying the loan she took out.

“We haven’t made that money back nor have we finished repaying it because in 2010 we were hit very hard by the drought,” Feni said.

“In terms of the loan agreement, we were to pay it back in five years, but it’s been more than that.

“Unfortunately, the relationship with my previous business partner contributed immensely to this. Money was always an issue between us,” she said.

The farm currently has two permanent workers as well as four casual workers. Feni is a real inspiration and a shining star in the Eastern Cape farming community as well as South Africa at large.

Feni we wish you all the success.