Tongaat Hulett’s #GrowingASweetFuture platform is committed to a transformed future where economic growth is fuelled by the employment of previously disadvantaged South Africans and where opportunities and hopes are shared equally.
We spoke to four young South Africans whose lives have been indelibly changed because they took the chance and grasped an opportunity when it appeared.
Tongaat Hulett Bursary Students
Thirty-four-year-old Gugu Mtolo grew up in rural KwaZulu-Natal, matriculating in Imbali in 2009. However, having lost both her parents at a young age, the money to further her studies and pursue her dream to become a graduate seemed impossible.
She found employment with pulp and paper manufacturer Mondi and it was another nine long years, time she believed had passed without the bright glint towards her dreams, before the opportunity presented itself. She saw Tongaat Hulett’s bursary advertisement that provided the chance to study for her three-year National Diploma in Agriculture. In 2021 she eventually came to hold that precious piece of paper that proves she is a graduate and symbolises the sweet future of which she had dreamt.
While she has not yet found employment in her chosen field, the opportunity that bursary has afforded her “means the world” in her eyes. In pursuing a tertiary education, Mtolo knows she now has insight previously outside her realm of understanding. It is the cement binding the practical experience gained while working for Mondi with the theory those classes taught.
“I can now combine the two elements of practical and theory and it has added significant value to my real-work environment. Now I want the opportunity to transfer that knowledge into a career,” she says.
Having achieved her dream via the #GrowingASweetFuture initiative, Mtolo encourages the youth in her community to study agriculture and understand the scale of the industry – to understand agriculture is not “simply a dirty industry”, but embraces elements of science, technology, research and processing.
During her three years of study, Mtolo realised her passion lies with agronomy – the science of soil management and crop production. Basing her analysis on maize, that staple food produced throughout Africa, she says her knowledge now recognises the value of caring for that crop throughout every step – from land preparation to soil samples, crop evaluation and finally harvesting.
“When the world faces food shortages, this knowledge is invaluable in protecting our future,” she concludes.
“My past and my future will never again be the same. #GrowingASweetFuture will ensure I escape the cycle of poverty,” exclaims the enthusiastic Owen Sithole Agricultural College graduate Siphesihle Jiyane.
Originally from Tugela Ferry and now living in KwaDukuza (Stanger), Jiyane has been passionate about farming throughout his 22 years of life. His father works on the local induna’s farmlands and heard about the Tongaat Hulett bursary opportunity – and it was thus a young man straight out of high school headed off for his three-year agricultural course in 2019.
“This opportunity has significantly changed my life. It has proved that if you dream to succeed, it can be done and now I have the knowledge and skills to work on my own,” he says, indicating that the only issue holding him back from studying further after school was funding.
Jiyane has not yet found permanent employment following his graduation, but his hopes are flourishing. He is determined the knowledge he has gained “will not get frozen by inactivity” and currently volunteers as an extension officer for the Department of Agriculture, advising local farmers on the various elements of sound agricultural practices.
This ranges from providing information relating to fertilisers and seedlings to farming equipment as the bulk of the people with whom he works do not have the privilege of that
“#GrowingASweetFuture is my driving force behind encouraging other matriculants to apply for funding to study further. Agriculture particularly provides vast opportunities for youth to contribute to food security,” he says.
Jiyane dreams of working for Tongaat Hulett in the near future as a means by which to thank the company for the opportunity to fulfil his agricultural dreams. Thereafter he wants his own agronomic farm producing sugarcane, fruit and vegetables.
“I now have the ability to work with my own hands; I can work for myself when previously I did not have the information to do so. That is how this opportunity has changed my life,” he concludes.
Tongaat Hulett Interns
“I am from a rural area around uMgungundlovu who dreamt of becoming an electrical engineer,” quips 33-year-old Nelisiwe Mbatha when asked about her background and dreams.
She had studied at a Further Education and Training (FET) College in 2010 to achieve her N6 qualification in electrical engineering, but the lack of an appropriate internship meant she has been unable to work in her field.
Consequently, she worked with small-scale sugarcane farmers within the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast rural areas and encouraged the youth to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, particularly within the sugar industry. Her break came nearly 10 years after her qualification when the late Mzobanzi Chini, who had been working in the area, told her about the Tongaat Hulett internship programme.
“I had been doing ad hoc work until then – a whole decade without starting my career before this opportunity presented itself. It was the chance to further my studies and promote my career; the chance to do practical work and rebuild my self-confidence and esteem,” she says.
Mbatha says electrical engineering has been her passion since a young child fascinated by the power of electricity, but the inability to work within her chosen field had her questioning whether or not she should restudy and enter a different career.
“Through the #GrowingASweetFuture initiative, I now use my story as a learning opportunity to the youth. I can demonstrate that life can be positive and that by studying further, you can provide a sweeter future – but you cannot give up hope,” she says.
Her internship ensures she is combining the theory learnt so long ago with the practical; the element that once mastered is far harder to forget than the theory.
“I am so grateful for this opportunity to follow my dream; so grateful for the opportunity to change my life,” she says.
Owen Chamane has dreamt of being an artisan his whole life, but the married father of three had seen more than 40 years of his life pass by without the right opportunity to capitalise on any chances to achieve that goal.
He spent nearly a decade working for the motor parts company Mogal after completing his electrical engineering qualification, but had not secured the apprenticeship he so urgently desired.
Today he drives the 100+km between his home in Claremont to the Tongaat Hulett Maidstone Mill as he grasps that opportunity to follow his long-desired dream. It is a sacrifice he makes willingly as he ponders a sweeter future for himself and his family – his wife, two daughters and a son.
“It is a glory to have this opportunity,” he says without hesitation. “It is my dream come true as I had been looking for an apprenticeship since finishing my theory courses.”
Chamane says Mogal only has space for one internship annually and, while he had hoped to be the lucky recipient over the years he had been in their employ, it had not borne fruit. That luck changed in 2019 when a friend approached him with the news that Tongaat Hulett was offering apprenticeships.
If he was interested in the opportunity, he should apply and hence the long distance daily travel as he diligently continues with his training until 2023.
“The #GrowingASweetFuture initiative is fulfilling a dream, while enabling me to learn information that would be impossible to acquire anywhere else. I now have a deep understanding of the sugarcane process and developed a specific passion and respect for the boilers,” he says.
His apprenticeship experience has taught him about working with the steam generated by the boilers. Sugarcane mills generate their own electricity via steam, making “my sector” the main one for the mill’s operation.
Chamane proudly acknowledges he had not known about the power of steam before starting his position at the mill and the importance for keeping the boilers in perfect operating order; ensuring they are constantly hot to keep the sugarcane production process on track.
While the apprenticeship means Chamane rotates between the different sections on the mill, it is the boilers that have stolen his heart.
“They are my fascination,” he says.