This year can be viewed as a milestone at Grootfontein College of Agriculture, as it celebrates 110 years of quality training, as well as a commendable research history.

Established in 1911 and considered to be among the oldest agricultural colleges in South Africa, the college is a leading centre of excellence due to highly skilled, experienced, and devoted lecturers. Education and training comprise 60% practical and 40% theoretical studies in the small-stock sector where the focus is on wool sheep and Angora goats.

Since the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, management at the college has been extremely committed to the safety of both the students and staff, while the young men and women are still granted the opportunity of a typical Grootfontein encounter in the heart of the Great Karoo.

Plaas Media’s Eastern Cape journalist called on three former Grootfontein students to recall and share some of their most precious memories at the college in the spirit of celebration.

Grootfontein made Beauty who she is

Having grown up in a small Tswana village situated in North West, 19-year-old Beauty arrived at Grootfontein in 2003. Having limited knowledge of Angora goats, she also faced a language barrier as she could not communicate well in Afrikaans or Xhosa.

This vibrant young woman holds fond memories of her life as a Grootfontein student. “I adapted well to life at the college and made sure to always give my best,” she says. “I took it upon myself to join the Grootfontein netball team, knowing very well that I would be the only African female participant. I then went on to become the top player on the team.”

“I owe my success within the mohair industry to Grootfontein, which I consider to be one of the country’s top agricultural colleges,” says Beauty Mokgwamme, the Mohair Empowerment Trust Manager at Mohair South Africa.

At the time, most of the classes were facilitated in Afrikaans as the predominant medium of instruction. Beauty then approached the lecturers for some assistance after classes. “All the lecturers were kind and understanding, always willing to help,” she states.

Beauty holds the relationships she developed with her lecturers, fellow students and the friends she made at the college dear and believes that they all contributed to the woman she is today. During her first year at Grootfontein, she also met her husband, Lucky Mokheswane. “We are still together today and have two beautiful children,” she says with a smile.

Beauty completed the three-year diploma in 2005 and was appointed the runner-up for best student of the year. She was further rewarded for being a dedicated, hard-working student and a team player. “Being selected as the college’s best mohair student that year contributed to the work ethic and dedication I portray in my work today,” she notes.

In 2006, she went on to work as an intern for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), and then reunited with Grootfontein in 2008 as a contractual professional for one year. “In 2009, I was appointed permanent agricultural training officer in small stock, which encompassed spending a great deal of time in the shearing shed with students. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Grootfontein as a training officer and recall no negative experiences. During my employment at the college, I decided to spend my free time assisting with extramural activities and became the netball co-ordinator. I also decided to start a choir at the college which did well. All in all I can say with confidence that I have left my mark at the college.”

Moving on in her journey, Mohair South Africa employed Beauty to manage its Empowerment Trust. “It has been a great two-and-a-half years’ journey with the Empowerment Trust, having been presented many challenges and opportunities. Currently we are running ten projects which account for approximately 5 000 goats, contributing around 12 000kg of mohair to the industry.”

Lastly Beauty highlights Grootfontein as being a specialised small livestock centre. “I really hope that our government and the industry will continue to support Grootfontein Agricultural College to maintain its high standard of quality education, infrastructure, as well as the staff and students’ dignity.”

Grootfontein taught Vusi to seize opportunities

Vusi believes it takes hard work and dedication to achieve one’s dreams. “Where I grew up, agriculture is the most predominant source of employment,” he says. “As a high school pupil, I considered getting involved in the agricultural sector. Grootfontein, or Groties as the students usually refer to it, drew my attention after I heard about it from friends and former students.”

Vusumzi (Vusi) Sambokwe grew up in Jansenville and is no stranger to unemployment in most small Karoo towns.

Vusi remembers how tremendously impressed and excited he was once he enrolled as a first-year student. “That feeling lasted right until my very last day at Groties. The environment, culture, opportunities, and experiences that the college offered were fantastic. I also got into the habit of calling it my home away from home.”

At times when the going got tough Vusi would remind himself that Grootfontein was his foundation for a better future. “Today I am very proud to call myself a former student of Groties and I would recommend studying there to anyone, as I did a while ago to a friend of mine from Jansenville, Sibabalwe Notnyi, who now studies there.”

Until recently, Vusi was employed by The House of Fibre and previously he was a senior technician at BKB. He recently accepted an offer from the Stucken Group, a prominent mohair buying and processing company in South Africa. He concludes that the success of his career so far can be attributed to the foundation Grootfontein laid. “Hard work and making use of the opportunities that arose helped me to get where I am today. I am grateful for everything that my Creator has offered me, and I now look forward to a great future in the mohair industry.”

A proud alumnus

The 25-year-old Sandile is proud of being a Grootfontein alumnus. He has no qualms in stating that Grootfontein is a one-of-a-kind institution and that those who have studied there are honoured to have their names written in history as alumni of such a prestigious institution.

Sandile Nzuza’s first-year nickname at Grootfontein has stuck with him and he comments on it as follows, “I am a Zulu from Durban and then somehow got tagged with the name Zulu Warrior. Perhaps they saw a leader’s qualities in me, since I eventually became the student representative council (SRC) deputy president in my third year, after serving as SRC secretary in my second year.”

He believes that his experience as a Grootfontein student has cemented his love of agriculture. “Today I am one of only a few African agricultural technician specialists in wool and mohair production in the country. I found my niche in the mohair industry and I am now employed as a technical officer at The House of Fibre, where I am entrusted with extra responsibilities within the company.”

Sandile continues, “Grootfontein offered me the best of both worlds in terms of study and recreation time, with high-quality facilities for sports, an angelic choir, and the sense of community one longs for at a tertiary institution. Their syllabus is focus-driven and covers all aspects of animal production – from health and nutrition, animal handling, meat, milk, and skin production, all the way to genetics. Amazingly crop production also comes into play since it is a major contributor to animal production.”

According to Sandile the curriculum accommodates all types of students. “The college produces diverse graduates who can swiftly adapt to the ever-changing agricultural environment. I salute Grootfontein for producing pioneers, innovators, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and history-makers. It is an institution of prestige and pride, not because of its history, but because of its ability to produce diverse graduates who can swiftly adapt to the ever-changing agricultural environment.” – Carin Venter, AgriOrbit