“When I introduce myself as a farmer, they say, ‘You are too pretty for that,’ but I’ve got [a] brain,” says Dineo Boshomane. “Others say, ‘Let me touch your hands. They are too soft.’ My hands are soft because I take care of myself.”
The 27-year-old worked for five years as a nurse before realising it wasn’t for her. Now she owns a one-hectare farm in Northern Farm, Diepsloot. She describes herself as a proudly black feminist child who does not allow sexism to affect her confidence – or her beauty regime. “I always have a lipstick. It gives me va-va-voom,” she says, laughing. “I am very young and attractive … When I go to the farm I have to look cute. My farm sees me.”
Boshomane plants vegetables such as chomolia (African kale), cabbage, Chinese spinach and onions. She hopes to penetrate the fresh produce market, selling to Woolworths and the Bryanston organic and natural market.
“People come [for] the spinach. Some call us, some come to buy. We’ve got one guy who … takes about 500 bundles of spinach a week. Some people ask us to reserve a space [on the farm] so that we can plant what they want.”
When asked about leaving her well-paid, secure job, Boshomane is adamant: “Sometimes you have to think about personal happiness. I literally glow because I am in a happy place. There are bad days, but eventually it will pay off.
“This farm pays me in different ways,” she goes on, while touching up her lipstick. “One, I am happy; two, I am not limited; three, I am doing what I love. When I am in the city, I become depressed. There is no fresh air. If I want to clear my mind, this place helps me to relax.”
Boshomane has one permanent staff member, Siyabonga Hlongwane, 53, an irrigation manager who started working at the farm in 2015.
Hlongwane suffered a stroke in 2010. “I have a disability [and] there is nowhere I could be employed,” says Hlongwane. “My entire right side of my body does not work. When I walk carrying something, you will notice that only one side is working.
“Fortunately, I found people like Dineo who offered me a job so that I can have food and money to survive, because I am not receiving a disability grant … I will never be separated [from] Dineo. Siyisinkwa nobhotela [We are bread and butter].”
Connecting with her ancestors
It was not just for commercial reasons that Boshomane got into farming. She feels that through nature, she is able to connect with her ancestors. I believe in my ancestors,” she says. “Our ancestors appreciated nature. They thrived in it.”
Boshomane says her great-grandmother, who was a traditional healer and died at the age of 112, would smile and laugh alone while looking at her crops. She would tell Boshomane, “Bayangihlebela abaphansi [the ancestors are communicating with me]”.
“When I grew older, I began to understand what it means to be a healer. But I had to … accept that I am black, and I cannot change myself. Now I understand the power plants have. And, of course, I am a healer,” she says. “Like my ancestors, I thrive in nature. This is my healing space.”
Boshomane teaches people about slow-food farming, promoting organic food not boosted by chemical fertilisers. The Slow Food International Network chose her as one of the South African delegates to attend a one-week agricultural conference held in Italy.
The conference engaged and shared ideas about producing good organic food. “We share food that is becoming extinct, food that our ancestors used to eat. We are trying to preserve these kinds of foods and create recipes.”
Over the next two years, Boshomane wants to expand. “There is unused land in Rustenburg, probably … 1 000 hectares. The chief told me that our ancestors used it for farming. I told him I will bring it back to life. It is big, I know. And It makes me smile. Probably you don’t see what I see,” she laughs. “I am going to plant everything.”