8 July 2008
At just 36 years of age, the Eastern Cape’s inimitable Phindi Kema is the first and only black person to breed thoroughbred horses commercially in South Africa. To top it off, she also grows lucerne and runs a citrus farm, a small dairy and a popular adventure camp.
“You have to push the boundaries and learn how not to impose any self-inflicted limitations on yourself in order to achieve your dreams,” said Phindi, who owns the Iph’ Intombi stud and citrus farm in the heart of Addo, outside Port Elizabeth.
After having bought the stud farm in May 2007, Phindi made headline news only three months later when she sold six yearlings at the National Yearling Sale at Gosforth Park in Gauteng, with Mary Slack, daughter of well-known South African business tycoon Harry Oppenheimer buying her best filly, Midnight Queen.
“Midnight Queen was sired by one of the Eastern Cape’s great stallions, Lecture, owned by Parker’s Ascot Stud in Port Elizabeth,” said Phindi. “She’s apparently doing very well, according to Durban-based trainer Dennis Drier, who is one of South Africa’s best.”
The other five yearlings also went to excellent trainers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and the Limpopo Province.
A passion for farming
As if destined for the job, Phindi’s phenomenal journey began when she bought a citrus farm in the area in November last year. Although she knew nothing about citrus farming a year ago, Phindi defied her sceptics with her first sale of 20 000 cartons of export quality produce recently to Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Farming may seem an unlikely profession for a black woman, especially even more so for someone so sophisticated, eloquent and elegant, but for Phindi, who was born in Komga and grew up on a farm in Frankfort near King William’s Town, it’s a passion she cannot deny.
“My grandparents were farm labourers and my parents bred pigs and supplied Karoo Osche abattoirs. At high school (the Zigudu Missionary School near Cofimvaba) I was one of two girls who chose agriculture instead of home economics,” she said. “During the school holidays I would have to help on the farm and that meant feeding and cleaning the pigsty. I hated that with a passion as a teenager … but now I realise how profound an effect my upbringing had on my love for farming today.”
And so it came about that Phindi approached the Department of Land Affairs with a proposal for a loan to purchase a farm. The department agreed to assist Phindi in buying the Addo citrus farm, stipulating a stringent list of requirements and conditions that she has to fulfil.
“It took nine months of blood and sweat to put together the citrus deal. The process was complicated because of funding,” she said. “Becoming a farmer was an adjustment I was prepared to make because this is where I wanted to be and I owe my being to the Eastern Cape.”
A serious challenge
By the time Phindi took over the citrus farm, the orchards had deteriorated into quite a poor state.
“It was a serious challenge as I started without any working capital,” she said.
Today the farm boasts 40 hectares of planted citrus of different cultivars, including lemons, navels, caracaras (a red orange), turkeys (a type of naartjie), novas and valencia types.
The citrus farm employs eight full-time staff and about 25 seasonal workers during the picking and pruning seasons. Phindi explained that the cultivars are seasonal workers throughout the year, ensuring a steady flow of income.
“One has to nurture your trees continuously. You have to chase the season because that is when the market pays top dollar. If your crop is late you miss out.”
Leaving a legacy
So how does a citrus farmer become a respected horse breeder?
It started through a friendship with Phindi’s neighbour, celebrated breeder, the late Elwyn Phillips, whose Elandskraal stud farm was up for sale.
“Elwyn was one of the founder members of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association,” she said. “He told people who had offered him double the price that I offered for the stud farm that it was ‘not about the owner or money, but about leaving a legacy’. That went straight to my heart.”
Eight of Phindi’s mares were recently transported to the Western Cape where they are being mated with some of the country’s top stallions.
“One of my mares is standing at Gary Player’s stud farm in Colesberg. She has been covered by Manshood, sire of Iph’Intombi,” she said. “I believe that Iph’Intombi was the best filly Africa has ever produced and she was voted the best filly internationally in 2002. I named my stud farm after her.”
Mating her mares with top commercial stallions does not come cheap. Not only are there transportation costs, but the actual mating exercise costs up to R250 000 per mare.
“I can’t wait for my first crop,” she enthused.
When Phindi bought the farm she inherited eight mares, six yearlings and eight foals. She then purchased two more mares to add to the stable.
“I didn’t have a stud manager as they are very expensive, so I had no option but to do it myself, along with my staff.”
While running the farm is a full-time job for Phindi, she still prides herself most on being a mom to her daughters – aged 10, 12 and 17 – who are attending Eastern Cape boarding schools.
“Although I don’t want them to lose the big city way of thinking, I like to bring them back here to keep them grounded,” said Phindi “Grounding is so important – and the Eastern Cape does that.”
This article was first published in Eastern Cape Madiba Action, winter 2008 edition. Republished here with kind permission.