Bursary programme develops young agricultural graduates

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Phoenix Durban

Mzenzi Mvelase, a Tongaat Hulett bursary holder from Mandeni in northern KwaZulu-Natal, graduated earlier this year at the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture.

A two-year development programme by Tongaat Hulett will see agricultural graduates being groomed to become future Estate Managers.
Mzenzi Mvelase, a Tongaat Hulett bursary holder from Mandeni in northern KwaZulu-Natal, graduated earlier this year at the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture.

The 27-year-old was selected to participate in the Agricultural Training Development Programme (ATDP) after completing his diploma. 

The programme exposes students to the company’s local and foreign mills and sugarcane projects.
“Since inception of the bursary programme in 2014, we aim for 10 students per year as our target. Being part of the agricultural development programme is a matter of prestige. By virtue of the numbers, only a handful of great calibre candidates are successfully enrolled,” said Nkonzo Mhlongo, socio-economic development manager at Tongaat Hulett.

The ATDP opens doors for career opportunities beyond estate managers. Students aspiring to become agronomists, researchers or agricultural farm owners have a world of other opportunities available to them.

Mhlongo said graduates were exposed to best practices in Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa in the areas where Tongaat Hulett operates.
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In 2012, Tongaat Hulett and the Owen Sithole College of Agriculture formed an important partnership aimed at transforming the educational institution into a Centre of Excellence specialising in sugarcane agriculture.
The ATDP recruits a maximum of eight candidates in a two-year cycle selected from various operations across Southern Africa. Two candidates per country are essentially chosen.

Mvelase’s childhood dream was to become a soccer player for a leading South African team and to travel to Europe.

“I was working at Mandeni Municipality as an environmental educator on a programme called Khabokedi where I educated the community about the environment. This is where I realised I have special connection with environment but it wasn’t until later that I discovered my speciality. I started to rehabilitate illegal dumping sites by planting grass and flowers which is where my interest in planting and research grew. From that day onwards, I haven’t looked back,” said Mvelase.
He added, “When I heard I was selected for the programme, I was overwhelmed with excitement – it was one of the most remarkable days of my life and I thank God for granting me such an opportunity.”

He said the focus of the programme in the first year was to understand field work. In the second year, he became more involved in managing a portion of the hectares on the estates. 

“I work with people from different countries who have different philosophies on how to conduct operations in the agricultural environment. I was exposed to the various challenges faced by each country. I learnt the language and adapted to the culture of other countries. Importantly, I was taken out of my comfort zone and compelled to thrive,” he said.

His short-term goals are to understand all agricultural operations, standards and procedures of the company.

His future plan is to continue studying until I obtain a doctorate degree in agriculture. He also want to grow within the company and own a farm one day.

He hopes to open a non-profit organisation which will empower communities to plant vegetables to minimise the cost of living, promote food security and maintain nutritional balance.

Mvelase enjoys spending his time with his grandmother and daughter and watching local football with friends.


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