The Sweetest Grandmother in the land.
The word “sweet” is one that many would use to describe their 91 year old Grandmother. It takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Gogo Virginia.
We cannot talk about Growing A Sweet Future without celebrating Tongaat Hulett’s oldest active sugar farmer and a much loved and respected leader in the KZN sugar community.
Born in Vryheid, Gogo Virginia has been farming sugarcane for 36 years and says retirement isn’t a consideration for her yet as she is still as passionate about farming as she was when she first started.
“I see women in their 60s using walking sticks, while I walk with my hoe, farming. It gives me life” said Gogo Virginia.
Farming has been in Gogo Virginia’s family for decades. Her brother, Abednego, was the first person to farm sugarcane in Mbongolwane, an area west of Eshowe and her father also grew sugarcane.
While such a big part of her life has been working out in her fields, it’s the work Gogo Virginia has done for the community that has had the biggest impact.
She is the Chairperson of Sakhindlela Co-operative, which was established in 1995 and registered in 2011. The co-operative consists of approximately 411 members from the Mbongolwane community.
In addition to receiving income for the sugar cane proceeds from the Tongaat Hulett, co-operative members also receive payment from the Supplementary Payment Fund (SPF), which is part of the Sugar Industry’s financial contribution to sustaining small-scale growers by paying them a premium price for their cane. Both these payments have had a considerable impact on the members’ lives.
“The financial rewards are quite good and as a result, my standard of living has improved considerably. I now look and feel good.”
So what does a typical day in Gogo Virginia’s life look like?
“I still like to work on my farm, but a lot of my time is spent assisting with land disputes and any admin requirements required by the co-op members as well as educating school children and the whole community about the importance of looking after sugarcane” explains Gogo Virginia. “It is very rewarding to me when I see people that I have introduced to the farming industry see the positive impact that agriculture has on their livelihoods.
“My greatest strength is my ability to persuade people to take an interest in anything I speak about.”
Gogo Virginia is a passionate advocate for empowering her community with the opportunity to make a living and also owning their own pieces of land from which they can farm.