Eston Area Manager, Ikageng Maluleke, cites transformation particularly in the numbers of women employed in the sugarcane industry, as a highlight since she was employed by SA Canegrowers earlier this year.
From a young age, Ikageng Maluleke knew she wanted a career in the agricultural sector.
However, it was during her high school years that she first became aware of the overwhelmingly negative perceptions of the profession held by those around her.
“I loved school! I was head girl in my final year, I came top of my class. It seemed obvious that I would choose to become an engineer or a doctor, but I knew my future was in agriculture,” Maluleke says.
She said her peers would ask why she wanted to become a farmer? Farming they said was dirty and she would make no money. Also, they were concerned there would be no future for a woman in “farming”.
“They really tried to discourage me,” she adds.
Maluleke was born in Hammanskraal about 30kms northwest of Pretoria. Her father, the late Alfred Mahlangu was a plumber and her mother, Salome teaches at the Dominican School for the Deaf also in Hammanskraal.
“I used to visit my great grandmother, Johanna Jele. She had a plot where she would plant maize and vegetables. I didn’t know it then, but she was farming, growing her own food, making sure she remained self-sustaining.”
It was Maluleke’s grandparents, Theodore and Martha who encouraged her to follow her dream, however.
“Education is a top priority in my family. And my mother – who went from mainstream teaching to teaching hard-of-hearing children – taught me that learning is life-long.”
With the University of Pretoria within striking distance of her home, Maluleke applied to study for a Degree in Agricultural Economics.
“What I loved was the mix between the sciences and economics. Some days I would have to run from the laboratory, in my white coat, to an economics class, it was that diverse. Once I had achieved my degree, I then studied for my master’s and at the same time I was able to get a job within the university as a lecturing assistant.”
It was during this time that the 33-year-old was approached to take up a position as a researcher with the Land Matrix, an independent land monitoring initiative that according to its website, “promotes transparency and accountability in decisions over large-scale land acquisitions”.
“We researched who acquired land on the African continent, in Asia and the Americas. How the land was acquired and how that acquisition affected the resident populations. I held the position from 2015 to early 2018,” Maluleke said.
In 2018 she joined the commodity organisation Grain SA. “These jobs prove that agriculture as a career stream, offers a world of possibilities, but we do need to tackle the perceptions that exist,” she said.
Early in 2022, when Maluleke was told of a management opportunity in the sugar industry, she decided to go for it. “Both my previous jobs were desk-bound, and I wanted to get out into the landscape, onto farms and to work with farmers,” she says.
“I am still getting acquainted with the commodity; it is different and exciting. It has been a very big learning curve for me.”
But, as a good communicator and one whose strength lies in the management of people, Maluleke is well on her way to feeling right at home. “I love working with the commercial farmers. The staff at SA Canegrowers have really helped me to settle and provided so much support. I was really surprised to see how many women there are in the sugarcane industry and that has been refreshing.”
Maluleke is now in her second year studying for a degree in Political Science. “There is an interesting connect between politics and agriculture which I find very interesting. I also want to mentor young women looking to take up a career in agriculture. To help them understand the possibilities and opportunities that exist, to encourage them not to become distracted by what others might think or say, but to follow their dreams,” she said.
And on her life philosophy, Maluleke quotes the American civil rights activist, actress and poet, Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style”.