In this special blog series, Staley School of Leadership Studies graduate teaching assistant Mafule Moswane considers how our academic framework, research agenda, and the associated leadership studies literature contributes understanding and support the exercise of leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak locally.
The role of 21st century farmers in South Africa: a case of Kgabo Moja and Mothupi Kgopa
On March 5, 2020, I visited Mary Kay Siefers’ Global Food Systems Leadership class to share about the role of 21st century farmers in South Africa. My purpose was to share my perspective about the role of farmers in South Africa who are currently involved in farming in the post-apartheid South Africa, and are leveraging 21st century technology to advance their work and mobilize others. In the conversation which I characterized as an unfolding story, I gave a juxtaposition of my story and the stories of Kgabo Moja and Mothupi Kgopa.
Our unfolding story
Prior to the lecture, I connected on WhatsApp with Kgabo Moja and Mothupi Kgopa, 21st century farmers who are friends and colleagues. I met both at my alma mater, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, during 2012-19. These leaders have been educationally trained in information systems and mathematical sciences respectively, yet they are involved in poultry farming. The fundamental purpose of connecting with Kgabo and Mothupi was to get nuggets of wisdom from people who are farming and mobilizing others through social media to achieve their purpose.
Kgabo and Mothupi are friends, entrepreneurs, educators and leaders in their own right. To be honest, they are complex and multifaceted individuals fitting in the diverse and changing world of the 21st century. I cannot box them into one thing really, but one thing is for sure: they are farmers, too. I have observed these leaders opting to own the ‘means of production.’
The beautiful thing about Kgabo and Mothupi is they are inviting young professionals, academics, entrepreneurs, public and other farmers to come together. They are giving full expression to ideas of Pan African leader Kwame NKrumah who postulated that, “Africa must unite,” and they are doing that by connecting online to share advice about poultry farming. They also engage stakeholders and share knowledge through workshops across South Africa. They do this with the mindset that “we must give the people fish,” and as they enjoy the fish, teach them to fish so that they can sustain their lives without our intervention. To teach people to farm is to give them what was taken from them when their forefathers’ land was dispossessed. “We must give the people what they need and let them also have a say in what they need.” Thomas Sankara once said, “He who feeds you, controls you,” therefore the ultimate freedom, I mean total emancipation, is being able to feed ourselves, one crop at time and one chicken at time. This in a nutshell is the work of Moja and Kgopa.
I return to the ideas and practices of both Moja and Kgopa because I find their cases very empowering and encouraging. They both share the view that farming is a fundamental human survival strategy and that food, unlike any other product is like water, does not go out of fashion. To provide service and products that are from framing practices means you will be able to feed yourself and society and most likely, live happily ever after. Moja, Kgopa, and I understand leadership as an unfolding process of interactions between humans and technology (Sergi, 2016). Viviane Sergi’s contribution to the leadership studies literature refers to the dynamic between physical objects, human interactions, and technology as the socio-material elements of leadership activity. Understanding the socio-material elements of leadership are essential in an increasingly inter-connected world, but become particularly important when COVID-19 requires physical distance between people. In what follows, I unpack how the unfolding process and actions of the leaders is made possible by interaction with technology.
Leveraging technology for farming and related work
I have been observing how these leaders have been leveraging social media to share their ideas, tell their stories and build connections with other farmers and members of the public. Both Moja and Kgopa are using social media to market their products, predominantly chickens and eggs.
Kgopa and colleagues are even taking it to next level by using social media for crowdfunding (https://www.afrifarmcrowd.com/fund-afrifarmcrowd) to mobile resources which will eventually lead to, among other things, starting a fruits and vegetable store, enable people who do not own land to be farmers by being investors and inviting people for training and workshops.
Furthermore, Mothupi is also creating online content for farming workshops given the challenge of COVID-19. These leaders are the ultimate ground forces, literally working the ground to feed people while creating opportunities for others.
The joy is in the journey
In sum, John Schaar, once said, “the future is not some place we are going, it is the one we are creating today, the paths to it are not to be found, but they are to be made, the activities of creating them, changes both the maker and the destination.” These words make sense to me now more than ever before. They make sense because, we have not yet arrived. We are work in progress. We are beings in the process of becoming. A people in constant pursuit of greatness, excellence and total emancipation. Above and beyond, through and in, the joy was, still is, and will forever remain in the journey of our becoming.
2018 Mandela Washington Fellow and a Ph.D. student at the Staley School of Leadership Studies, Kansas State University
Sergi, V. (2016). Who’s leading the way? Investigating the contributions of materiality to leadership-as-practice. In J. Raelin’s, Leadership-as-Practice (pp. 124-145). Routledge.
Kgabo Moja and Mothupi Kgopa