It is a rare opportunity to get a chat with Operations Manager Sydney Mhango. His busy schedule makes it hard for him to be found in one place for a long period of time. So I had to grasp the only chance I could get to talk with him. It is a Wednesday evening and he is talking a walk with his family through the macadamia orchard. He invites me to walk with him as we have the conversation about the just ended macadamia nut season. A few paces behind us you could hear the soft voices and giggles of his wife, Misozi, and their youngest son, Mluleki. I feel a bit awkward to have interrupted this precious family time, so I do my best to keep the conversation as succinct and precise as possible.
From the beginning, he makes it clear that this year’s harvest was better than last year’s. I could sense the cheerfulness in his voice as he expands that we harvested a total of over sixty tonnes compared to last year’s thirty-seven. The amount of work that was put throughout the season eventually paid off, and it is not a surprise to see him smiling at this point. Sixty tonnes meant that two trucks were filled when the nuts were transported to South Africa. He mentions that this achievement was due to the good rains the country experienced late last year and early this year. Also, a new irrigation system was put in place, and it proved to be what we needed. At the mention of the water pump, he bends down to the nearby tree that is being watered by a sprinkler and adjusts it to make sure it is in the right position. One cannot help but marvel at the workaholic spirit in him even during his leisure time. As we continue, I could see the watering going on through the sprinklers and notice that they cover a wider area around each tree. He says this is good because, “the roots will be able to spread in search for food, thus enriching the tree’s health.”
On a sad note, in the month of August we lost one of our longest serving workers, Ntombi Malinga. Her work was vital in the orchard and a gap has been left, not only at the Tree of Life, but also in our hearts. Therefore, I ask babe Mhango about the impact this loss will have in their work. He acknowledges that there will be some effect, but they are mitigating it. Coupled with the demise, TOL is understaffed, but such a challenge is not really felt due to the employment of casual workers to bring relief whenever the workload escalates. As much as make Malinga’s absence is known, the people around are doing their best to let work proceed as smoothly as it was.
The last thing we talk about, to lighten up the sombre mood that had descended on us, is what he likes most about his job. “I am not confined to one place, “he says with a smile stemming from deep satisfaction. He does not get bored about work because he moves from this task to the next freely, and thus is able to avoid the disadvantages of specialization. Quite truly, there is no one place you can bet to find him at, but he is always all over the place. This enables him to get first-hand information on what is happening everywhere. With that, I thank his family for allowing me to disturb their walk and I turn back.
Mr Mhango is indeed a pillar in our Tree of Life project. The energy he puts in his work speaks volumes on the output side. His workaholic spirit is one of the reasons we rejoice this year concerning the harvest we received. We can also afford to cast our eyes into another successful season that has already started because we have people of Sydney’s calibre. As I walk back, I turn around and look at the three figures walking adorably away and thank God under my breath for them.