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Mohair Could Be Nowhere

Thousands of lives are bound up with the Karoo. Many ambitious entrepreneurs make up the biggest mohair industry in the world and fear fracking.

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The Herold father-son duo are the biggest mohair farmers in Graaff-Reinet, in the Eastern Cape; and the second biggest in the country. South Africa has 900 mohair farmers who make up 54% of the world’s production. The Herolds used innovative farming techniques, foresight and discipline to expand their land from 7,000 to 16,000ha. They lease another 6,000ha.

Richard Herold, aged 30, has his sights set on becoming the world’s number one mohair farmer; if hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, doesn’t put him out of business first.

“All our drinking water comes from underground, if it is contaminated our animals won’t have water to drink, that’ll be the end of small-stock farming. Water is the key,” says Herold.

Richard Herold

“Fracking would probably kill the mohair industry, because the area which is earmarked, like Jansenville and Beaufort West, is the main area of mohair production,” says Justin Coetzee of the South African Mohair growers association.

Like many Karoo farmers, they support attorney Derek Light who is battling it out against international energy companies wanting to pursue hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.

“The traffic and damage to the roads [is another concern], it would lead to an increase of stock theft and damage to property. A lot of the things are unknown, it might even be a positive, it might create a lot of jobs and incomes for people, but you don’t know. The possibility, if you look at what happened in America, I wouldn’t want that to happen here,” says Herold.

He believes fracking would change the way of life in the Karoo: “The big part of the attraction and value that we place on it, is the isolation. If you were to drive past drilling rigs it wouldn’t feel like you were in the Karoo,” he says.

“We have a farm in western Australia—where we keep feral goats for meat production—in a mining area. I’ve seen the impact where farming and mining mix and well… they don’t mix, it changes the dynamics completely,” he says.

While Herold’s great-grandfather bought the land in 1922; it was his grandfather who bought the animals. Seventy per cent were sheep and the rest goats. David Herold, his father, turned it into a mohair farm.

“We sold all our sheep two years ago and we’re slowly replacing them with goats,” says Herold. They now have 95% goats and some cattle. While other mohair farmers have a weaning rate of around 75%—they rear 75 kids off of 100 reproducing ewes—he has a 100% weaning rate. “That’s not to say we’re producing 100 from 100, we do have a loss of 10% but we also have twins; one makes up for the other,” he says smiling.

When he’s not fighting off invading jackals and lynxes, from nearby game reserves, or attending meetings held by gas companies; he’s doing the day-to-day things to improve the quality of his mohair to get the best price.

“With our kid hair, we’re generally in the top three to five [sellers] in South Africa. But we can certainly improve on that. It’s nice to know that there is still a lot to be done to prepare our clip better. Our fiber was contaminated with grass seed last year, that’s something you can manage but you sometimes have to put the animals’ nutrition ahead of its fiber. Sometimes you have to make the decision to put them on the best food regardless of what happens to their hair,” says Herold.

“We had the highest ever adult mohair price per kilogram two seasons ago, which lasted for one week and then someone else got it. But that was a bin, so it was a compilation of other people’s mohair, so it wasn’t just one producer,” he says proudly.

While he is a registered stud breeder, he doesn’t sell them; he keeps the best genetic material for his farm.  He also puts the kids into a high-grazing, fenced off pen.

“If they grow up well and have a good foundation it gives them a head-start for the rest of their lives. They’re like children. It’s a good investment now for the future,” says Harold.

He speaks with great admiration when explaining his father’s innovative farming practices. Through his lateral thinking and decades of experience, he has successfully reduced the labor-intesity of ‘shedding’ goats after the goats have been shorn. While other farmers usually put their sheds near trees or shrubs which are natural forms of shelter and might decide not to shed them on certain nights on that account; David decided to strategically place them in open veld.

“Psychologically you know you have to shed them because there’s no other option. It usually takes quite a lot of effort and manpower, but in this way you’re forcing yourself to be disciplined because it’s open; one man can even do it, whereas others might require a few men to do so. Also they’re quite intelligent, you can train them. We’ll shear them every night regardless, so they’ll go automatically. It’s a habit you train into them, and the nanny goats will monitor the kids,” says Herold.

Herold has an eye for opportunity; he has his finger in many pies. He breeds 250 tuli cattle for the meat market and had up to 3,000 ostriches, until recently, because they do so well in times of drought and they’re versatile: you can farm them for their meat, feathers and eggs.

Imagine what his grandfather would say were he to find out that they currently have around 10,000 angora goats; by far the most for miles around. They’ll do anything but boast about it though, for they are humble people, even though, Herold has high ambitions: “I want to be the biggest mohair farmer in the world in the next few years.”

The flock numbers fluctuate depending on the season and the composition of the animals.

“You have to take a long-term view. Don’t stock your farm to the full potential as it’s an asset you have to look after, without over-grazing it,” says Herold.

The land can hold anything up to 14,000; on average he has between 8,000 to 10,000 goats, he says.

Herold takes a very reasoned approach to farming, in the drought of 2009-2010 he had to de-stock by 10% to guarantee food for the remaining animals for the following year. One hundred hectares of the land is used for irrigation.

That’s not to say that farming doesn’t come with its fair share of political challenges too.

“I’d say our biggest concerns in farming are political: what our place is going to be priority-wise for the government. The ‘green papers’ they are putting forth look to limit the amount of land that individuals can own. Limiting anything in business is not conducive to investment and good business, it forces people to start looking elsewhere,” he says.

According to Herold, government appointed land-valuers don’t necessary understand or have the knowledge of the area.

“Every business is a long-term investment, it makes one think twice before re-investing and expanding in [one’s] business… I might invest in this property and grow it and then in 10 years a government valuer might say ‘no, it’s not worth this, it’s worth that’,” he says.

The monthly running costs of his farm are R100,000 ($12,000) and returns vary.

“We were getting a better price for our mohair five years ago then we are now. The cost of production has gone up. The game [reserve] industry has pushed up the price of land beyond what the farming value has been, so it’s more difficult to buy and expand your business now than what it was 20 years ago,” he says. He doesn’t find it surprising that many farmers are turning elsewhere to ecotourism and ‘bed and breakfasts’.

Between his and his father’s farms they employ 20 permanent staff, the average staff member has been with them for 10 years. David serves on the mohair trust and is the chairmen of the black economic empowerment development trust within the angora industry.

“We have incentive schemes in place and training courses in fencing, mohair grading and tractor driving. That is the key to small-stock farming: having good, reliable people working for you. You can’t pay them minimum wage, day in day out, and expect them to go the extra mile for you. Sometimes we can’t close shop on a Friday and open up again and start again on a Monday,” Herold says.

They fear if fracking happens, they may have to close shop on a Friday and may not be able to open again on a Monday.

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Agriculture

Green-Sky Thinking

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In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.


Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

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Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

READ MORE| Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future

After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

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In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

READ MORE| Local Solutions Can Boost Healthier Food Choices In South Africa

“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Entrepreneurs

The Life And Wisdom Of Richard Maponya

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He was one of the big names in business in Africa; as gentlemanly. as he was shrewd. He fought the odds and apartheid to stake his place in business and inspire millions of his countrymen to do the same.

Richard Maponya – the doyen of black business in South Africa – passed away in the early hours of January 6, after a short illness. Maponya turned 99 on Christmas Eve near the end of a long and fruitful life that saw him dine with the Queen, laugh with Bill Clinton and chauffer his old friend Nelson Mandela. Mandela asked Maponya, who owned a car dealership, to pick him up at the airport in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990.

Ï picked him up at the airport and that was the most frightening time of my life. We were chased by people on foot, helicopters, motorbikes and cars. Everyone just wanted to touch Mandela. They could kill him just trying to touch him,” Maponya recalled to Forbes Africa in a cover story in March 2017.   

Mandela was a close friend of Maponya since the 1950s. The future president, then a young lawyer   helped Maponya set up his first business against the restrictive apartheid laws that shackled black business.

Maponya wanted to open a clothing store in Soweto, Johannesburg; the authorities said no. Mandela lost the fight for the clothing store, but did manage to secure him a license to trade daily necessities. This opened the way for Maponya to start out with a milk delivery business that was to prove the foundation of his fortune.

More than half a century on, Mandela, then a former president of South Africa, beamed with pride, in 2007, as he opened the first shopping mall in Soweto.

Maponya Mall had taken the canny businessman a good deal of patience to put together. He acquired the land in 1979 – the first black man to secure a 100-year lease for land in Soweto – and spent many more years building up the mall.

“Ï fought for 27 years for that mall and was many times denied; they actually thought I was dreaming. When Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon to open the mall, that was the highlight of my life,” Maponya said years later.

It was a mile on a road less travelled by Maponya in a long journey from the tiny township of Lenyenye in Limpopo in northern South Africa where he was born. He moved across the province to Polokwane to train as a teacher and then, like many young men of his generation, moved south to Johannesburg in search of his fortune.

In those days, the gold mining city was booming, but only the few saw the fruits. Maponya was blocked at every turn as he tried to make his way in business; he won through making a fortune from property, horse racing, retail, cars and liquor.

Maponya mentored many black entrepreneurs and inspired many millions more he had never met. One of them was Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg, who made his own fortune with hair care products.

“To myself and the people I grew up with he was an inspiration to all of us to get into business…If he had started out in business in a normal world there is no doubt he would have been even bigger than he was,” Mashaba told CNBC Africa.

Maponya will be mourned by the millions who were inspired to follow him and by a business world that is richer, in more ways than one, for his nearly a century of hard work in which retirement was never an option.

“People who retire are lazy people. You retire and do what? Bask in the sun?  I am not that type of man,” he said in 2017 at the age of 96.

He could never be.

By Chris Bishop  

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