The farmer who gave up his land for his workers

Anton Maseko was a tractor driver for most of his life. Like other farm workers, he earned just enough to support himself and his family. But this was his home. He was born here and so were his parents. Now he has the chance to truly call it his thanks to Colin Forbes, the farm owner who has voluntarily given more than 500 hectares to his dedicated workers.

Forbes believes that the success of Athole Farm in Mpumalanga, which has been in his family since 1860, is dependent on the development and progress of its employees. Since 2011, he has provided mentorship and resources to develop the workers from subsistence to commercial farmers. He teaches business management skills and pays for the initial seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and diesel needed for the machinery. The area he has given up includes a residential space with housing for the beneficiaries and their families. Together with the 60-odd workers who have benefitted, Maseko doesn’t live in fear of unemployment or poverty. “Having this place has made us happy. We feel free, happy and liberated,” he says. His extra income means that his children can now afford to study further. “In my old age, I can rest happily and peacefully knowing that my work paid off”,” he says.

The issue of land reform in South Africa remains contentious. Those who work the soil don’t benefit from the profits brought in, while redistribution without sharing of resources or experience leaves room for failure for all involved. No wonder that so many have rejected the idea altogether. But Forbes believes that trying to make an initiative work is better than accepting it as broken. The agricultural sector has the potential to change life for generations of families who depend on the ground they farm on. “The 10% we received has given our families hope,” Maseko says. It’s also showing South Africa how everyone can reap the benefits of a collaborative venture.