NCT’s small scale tree farmer of the year

Vikesh from Pmb Power Products presents Sydney with a brand new STIHL chainsaw.

Sydney Qedumona Hlanguza from the Umvoti tribal area has been nominated by the NCT Forestry team as their Small Scale Tree Farmer of the Year for 2023.

This is a prestigious award presented annually to tree farmers who display excellence in the management of their plantations grown on tribal land.

After spending 20 years working in the formal sector, first as a teacher and then with Old Mutual’s sales division, Sydney returned to his traditional home in Ntembisweni in the Umvoto tribal area where he bought a plot situated adjacent to his family’s ancestral land.

Evidence of Sydney’s excellent forestry operations with effective weeding around newly planted tree seedlings.

Initially he managed a small rural trading store but was eventually persuaded to try his hand at forestry, initially planting wattle on his land from seed acquired from NTE.

By the time those first trees reached maturity, Sydney had made contact with NCT’s Greytown District Manager, Cliff Walton, who helped him find a market for the timber.

This was the start of a long-standing relationship between Sydney and NCT, with Sydney becoming a member of the co-op in 2010.

Sydney continued to plant wattle on his land, and now also manages the wattle plantations on the adjoining land owned by his two brothers. He has a total of three hectares of wattle under his management.

Sydney’s three hectares planted with wattle.

Sydney has been instrumental in assisting the foresters from NCT and NTE to roll out Project Wattle Regen in the Umvoti tribal areas, which aims to support the small-scale growers to improve their productivity, and expand the areas planted to wattle.

Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is an ideal tree crop well suited to local conditions, and with ready markets nearby.

Most of the wattle timber grown in this area is marketed through NCT which has chipping and export facilities at the nearby port of Richards Bay. The wattle bark is marketed through NTE which has a factory near Greytown that turns freshly harvested wattle bark into tannin and adhesives, destined mainly for the export market. Wattle timber not marketed through NCT is also widely used by locals in many applications such as fencing posts and building material.

Young wattle seedlings are planted in a fenced enclosure to protect them from being trampled by cattle.

Sydney shared some of the many challenges he faces daily. Goats, cattle, and duiker breaking through his fences and seedlings being removed shortly after planting. Fire also is a constant threat and part of his management plan is making sure that he has good firebreaks during the winter months. He deals with challenges faced proactively and responds tactfully. He allows neighbours to collect firewood on his property in a controlled manner, this way he gains allies rather than enemies.

In addition to his forestry business, Sydney also runs a small side-business selling gas refills, lectures in Theology at a local Bible college, and is a speed-walking champion for good measure.

Sydney is a proud father of seven children. His older children are all in successful careers while he is still responsible for his last two who are both training to be teachers. Sydney’s wife works for the University of KwaZulu-Natal as an admin clerk.

He is a humble person who is always open to learning and improving. He considers himself a “student of life” and is always ready to take advice from people who know more about something than himself.

Sydney’s fire breaks – fire is a constant threat, especially in the dry winter months.

Once a chainsaw operator – now a grower

Part Two in our focus on the small-scale tree farmers of KZN ...

Enoch Mathenjwa manages 40 hectares of eucalyptus and is one of many small growers in Zululand that supplies timber to the Mondi Richards Bay Mill.

Story and pics by Samora Chapman

Enoch Mathenjwa’s journey in forestry goes way back - nearly four decades back to a different time in South Africa. In 1983 Enoch got his first job in forestry as a chainsaw operator for Shell Forestry in KwaMbonambi. Little did he know that he would eventually own 40 hectares of his own lush forests, scattered across the deep rural area of Thelizolo, where a mosaic of small timber farms reach as far as the eye can see.

“I grow slowly but surely, every year, a bit at a time,” he says with a toothy grin, sitting on the back of his bakkie on a sandy farm road. “I own a taxi business in the village … and every time I make a profit, I grow more trees. I only deal with Mondi Zimele and Awethu Forestry,” he adds, referring to the market connection to the Mondi Richards Bay Mill in the south.

Despite having worked in forestry as a young man, it was only in 2006 that Enoch decided to establish his own plantation. He requested land from the local chief and planted his first four hectares in an effort to establish a side business that could supplement his income. About one rotation later, in 2012, he was introduced to Awethu Forestry, a local forestry agent that was implementing Mondi Zimele’s master plan to boost rural development in the region through forestry.

“When I joined Awethu and the Mondi Zimele programme, everything changed,” he says with pride. “The advice, the high-quality seedlings and the access to the market encouraged me to grow the business and take forestry more seriously. Looking back, I have been able to do many things through forestry. I even paid the deposit for this bakkie right here,” he says, giving the bakkie a pat like it was a noble steed.

Enoch takes a walk with Ntombifuthi Mthembu and Nonkazimlo Mkwa of Awethu Forestry, which is the implementing agent of Mondi Zimele's Forestry Partners Programme.

Awethu Forestry supports Enoch at every level of the business, operating as the vital connection between the small-grower and Mondi. At harvest time Awethu Forestry coordinates a local harvesting contractor to fell the trees and then a short-haul contractor to load the timber on a tractor-trailer and navigate the winding and treacherous sandy roads to the nearest Awethu depot. From there, the timber is loaded by hand onto a 38 tonne truck, which carries the precious cargo all the way to the Mondi Mill, some 265 kilometres to the south. And that’s the origin of the paper and packaging products manufactured by Mondi that are sold all over the world.

These are the nuts and bolts of the Mondi Zimele Forestry Partners Programme, a unique partnership that has seen a total of 933 690 tonnes of timber delivered to Mondi in the last 15 years, generating R803 million in revenue for the small growers of Zululand.

Awethu Forestry coordinates transport for the long haul from the Thelizolo depot to the Mondi Richards Bay Mill, 265 kilometres to the south.

Fire and the future
Enoch says that fire is the main threat to his forestry business. “There are honey hunters in this area – they use fire to smoke out the bees and harvest honey. This is a danger to the plantations, especially since we do not have fire-fighting equipment,” he explains.

He goes on to highlight the importance of firebreaks and keeping compartments clean so that there is less fuel for a fire if one does break out.

Enoch’s vision for the future is to buy his own tractor-trailer and timber truck so that he can deliver his own timber to the Thelizolo depot AND handle the long haul to the Mondi Richards Bay mill. This will also enable him to start a timber transport contracting business to service the many other growers in the area. And so the cycle continues to grow and evolve, benefiting more and more people along the magical value chain … from seedling to mill.

GU clones are the best trees for the dry and sandy conditions in Zululand.

Find out more at and read our previous post in the series: Rejoice Shozi – Soil is the source of life.