One would think that a black person with a Master’s degree would easily get a job in South Africa, especially in the agricultural sector. But this is not always the case. It took hard work and a little bit of help from a whole lot of stakeholders for Sibongiseni Silwana to finally land a well-paid, challenging job where he can make a difference.

Silwana makes a good first impression: genuine, intelligent and enthusiastic. But life has not been easy. He grew up on a small farm in the Eastern Cape and studied for a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at the University of Fort Hare. He then completed an Honours in Soil Science and came to Cape Town to look for a job. But opportunities for graduates without experience are scarce, and not coming from the area, he was at a loss how to find one.


Hearing about the University of Stellenbosch and its big Agricultural faculty, Silwana made his way there and knocked on the door of Professor Nick Kotze at the Department of Agronomy, hoping for some assistance. This eventually resulted in Silwana registering for a Masters in Agronomy.

However, once he had graduated further obstacles loomed. He spent months looking for work but even with a Master’s degree, companies still weren’t keen to employ someone without experience.

That’s when Agriseta stepped in. In South Africa the Department of Labour initiated the National Skills Development Strategy which in turn created a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) in the various key job sectors, Agriculture being one of them. SETA’s facilitate training for out-of-school youth as well as anyone who needs additional skills and further training. Agriseta’s mission is to create opportunities for employment and development within agriculture in conjunction with other stakeholders. 

Within Agriseta, there is a graduate placement programme which strives to find placement for graduates such as Silwana, to provide them with the ever elusive experience they need to ‘get a real job.’

One of the stakeholders in the agricultural industry, with a history of transformation and a reputation for providing opportunities, is Bosman Family Vineyards in Wellington. Workers on this farm have been encouraged to make extensive use of bursaries and funding provided by Agriseta to improve their skills and opportunities. So it wasn’t a hard sell for them to agree to take on Silwana for a 12 month contract.

Silwana reported directly to CEO Petrus Bosman who secured him a spot in their laboratory and gave him the task of investigating the soil of a piece of land on their farm where they wanted to plant a vineyard. “I told Silwana he could come and see me any time for help and advice,” explains Bosman, “but on condition he taught me to speak Xhosa.” So Silwana responded by purchasing 2 exercise books, one for himself and one for his boss. Whenever the two of them met, Silwana taught Bosman a new Xhosa word, and Bosman taught Silwana a new Afrikaans word.

Petrus Bosman

Silwana proceeded with his project and after a few months was able to supply the Bosmans with very useful information regarding the soil preparation necessary for the site and the results they could expect in the cellar. So it was, being fully employed, Silwana’s worth became evident and an agricultural consulting company soon offered him a great job.

“Although his input was significant, I didn’t want to stand in the way of a great job opportunity so I gladly allowed Silwana to break his contract with us and move on to permanent employment,” explains Bosman. “After all, that is the whole aim of the Graduate Placement Programme.”

On his last day at the Bosmans, Silwana knocked on his boss’s door to bid him farewell: “I want to teach you one last work,” he said. “That word is ‘Ubuntu’ which means ‘I am because we are’. Because you gave me a chance, I have been given a bigger chance. And that chance will make more chances for all of us.”

Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains further: “Ubuntu [...] speaks of the very essence of being human. "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." We belong in a bundle of life. We say, "A person is a person through other persons."

When I caught up with Silwana he was really too busy to talk to me:

 “Just tell me, is it going well?”

“Yes,” he said, “very well, very well!”

For more information on bursaries and graduate placements visit www.agriseta.co.za.

- Julia Moore