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Dr Ethel Zulu: farmer, ANC stalwart, Israel fan and Comrades runner

  • EthelZulu2
Farmer, Dr Ethel Zulu-Mokwele, smiled quietly to herself last Sunday while the Comrades Marathon was taking place. Instead of running it for the fourth time, she found herself hundreds of kilometres away at the South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) annual national conference, surrounded by people eager to listen to her farming journey.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jun 14, 2018

Struck with a bad dose of bronchitis, the committed runner pulled out days before the race after months of preparation. But, an invitation to be a panellist at SAFI was exactly what the doctor ordered to lift her spirits, seeing it as a sign of divine intervention.

“G-d knew I had to be at the conference, so he gave me a cold,” she told the SA Jewish Report this week.

The devout Christian and longstanding member of the ANC has recently returned from an educational trip to Israel, where she attended the 20th Agritech International Agricultural Exhibition and Conference in Tel Aviv last month. The experience not only changed her life, but completely changed her impression of the Holy Land and the people in it.

“I never really knew what to expect, but I am amazed by Israel and its people. Their knowledge of agriculture and sustainable farming is incredible,” she said.

“What a place, what a people!”

Zulu-Mokwele, who has a doctorate in nutrition, is a crop farmer, nutritionist and the owner of Bee Tree Farm in Cullinan, a 30-minute drive from Pretoria. She supplies vegetables to various supermarkets in and around Pretoria, and to the local community.

She spent years in the department of agriculture working in the skills-development sector, training farmers in North West Province. When she moved to Johannesburg several years ago, she decided it was time to practice what she preached, and took up farming herself.

“I soon realised that the challenges of farming were out of this world, and that I was a beginner.”

Since acquiring Bee Tree Farm, she has been on a mission to secure financing, and most important of all, the knowledge how to become a successful, sustainable farmer.

Her passion and enthusiasm has placed her in the path of other farmers and suppliers in the industry, many of whom, coincidentally, have been Israelis keen to help.

“They helped me along the way, offering advice and expertise, out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said.

She drops names like “Yossy, Ami, Rami, and Amit”, a range of farmers, egronomists (plant specialists) and suppliers, all willing to share their expertise and time.

Earlier this year, she was invited to attend the Agritech conference jointly hosted by Farmers Weekly and the Israel Trade Mission. While there, she was introduced to Lior Keinan, the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, and Amit Lev, the Israeli Trade Commissioner to South Africa.

Her passion and enthusiasm was noted, said SAFI’s Mark Hyman, who nominated Zulu for sponsorship to attend the conference.

Three weeks later, Hyman said an anonymous donor came forward to secure the sponsorship she craved.

“I was so excited,” she said, “I couldn’t believe it.”

The international conference and the many people she met while in Israel opened her eyes to how little she knew about her trade.

“I was like a farming joke before my trip to Israel,” she said.

What amazed her most was the willingness of Israelis to share their knowledge of sustainable farming. “Everyone was so warm and friendly, knowledgeable, and eager to help me,” she said.

She visited working farms during her short – but  intense stay and had hundreds of questions answered. She made contacts with plant specialists and irrigation experts all keen to show her new farming and watering methods.

“I have come back to South Africa on a high,” she said.

Sadly, upon her return she has had to field criticism from friends and colleagues who are not pleased with her pro-Israel sentiments.

“I have told them that I am a farmer and a Christian, and the Israeli farming method is the way to go,” she said.

Not only can these methods help her, but she can spread the word and help others.

She said she was saddened by the recent actions of high ranking politicians insistent on cutting ties with the Holy Land, saying, “I close my ears to the noise. Prayer is more powerful.

“These politicians do not realise the impact this can have on farmers in this country. We can learn so much from the Israelis about how to care for the land,” she said. “The Israeli way is all about soil preservation and giving back to the land, not destroying the land.”

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