He’s not even 21 years old yet. But Fisokuhle ‘Fiso’ Hadebe travelled the long road from his hometown of Estcourt in the uThukela District of KwaZulu-Natal last Thursday into the lion’s den of the Mistico Cape Yearling Sale arena on a sweltering hot Sunday. And came away with a lot more than his dignity intact.
Standing on a podium in a 42 degree Cape Summer pressure cooker, watched by a mostly streetwise mixed audience of dreamers and cynics on his auctioneering debut, while trying to achieve a happy seller-happy buyer balance in the toughest and most demanding of times for racing and breeding, was never going to be a walk in the proverbial park.
“We arrived in Cape Town on Thursday and I knew this was my big chance to break the ice. But the nerves kicked in. I couldn’t pronounce routine words in ordinary conversation – they came out wrong. It was crazy! But I decided – stop overthinking. And Gary ‘Schweggers’ Schwegmann, who acts as a bid-spotter, was a great help for me in terms of the practicing. On Saturday evening we grabbed some shut-eye from 11 o’clock. We were awake at 1 am and were going through my lots. Over and over. We were up bright ‘n early at 6am on Sunday morning and were going through the motions again, warming up. It was literally hours and hours of prep!”
But by the time he stepped onto the podium to commence his maiden first lot, Fiso was a bundle of nervous sweat.
“Some guys said I looked really cool and confident. Good grief – don’t judge a catalogue by it’s cover – hell, no! I was sweating in all directions, my knees were shaking, I was quivering. But then the horse was introduced into the arena and my training kicked in. The rhythm started – the people were bidding. Hands and books were going up – the words flowed, I was urging them on. I thought, let’s get on with this. It’s actually happening – the adrenaline was flowing – it was great!”
Fiso was allocated limited lots and enjoyed the distinction on his debut in a team of seasoned veterans, of selling the top lot of the sale – #164, a Vercingetorix colt bred by Maine Chance Farms and sold to the Hollywood Syndicate team, led by former champion jockey Anthony Delpech, for R375 000.
The irony is that Fiso only realised he had actually sold the top lot of the entire sale when it was tweeted later by his favourite racing rag, the Sporting Post.
On Sunday evening he couldn’t fall asleep as the replays reeled over and over in his head.
“I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I kept mulling that I should have done this or said that. But there are no second takes – the horse has his time in the ring and what happens, happens, I suppose!”
So who is this modestly brave and talented young man, who voluntarily threw himself to the wolves, and came out of the street fight looking slicker than James Bond?
The 20 year old Fisokuhle ‘Fiso’ Hadebe is one of two brothers and seven sisters from a well established family in Estcourt, a little town 160km north of Durban with a population of just over 20 000.
Fiso’s folks – he proudly tells us his Dad turns 50 in September – run a charity NPO that teaches the local community self sufficiency through small-scale soya bean and maize growing.
Fiso attended Weston Agricultural College in Mooi River.
The boys’ only high school is situated on a 1200ha working farm near Mooi River. The school’s education focus, Fiso points out, is through the integration of academic and farming instruction, with sport, cultural and leisure activities in the mix.
“I’m fortunate – my education gave me a flying start and then I met Michael Holmes and I feel like I was adopted by Bloodstock South Africa and love being a part of their family. And now my heart is set on a career as an auctioneer. I had the taste of it on Sunday, and while I still have it all and more to learn, I’m hungry to absorb and to progress.”
Fiso says that he has watched the replays from Sunday and his goal now is to modify, improve and build his own style, while gaining confidence slowly.
He thanked Bloodstock SA and said that he was being mentored by legends of the industry in Andrew Miller and Graeme Hawkins.
“And I also have lots to learn about horses, racing and breeding. That’s another goal. To watch racing, read up and pick the brains. There are so many people who have offered to coach me. It’s an exciting and vibrant industry and the support has been wonderful.”
Asked about life and marriage and the future, Fiso says that his entire focus is on his career.
He doesn’t drink or smoke – we put it to him that he had to have at least one suburban vice. Like, does he gamble?
“I’m quite boring I suppose. I don’t gamble, drink or smoke. And I still live at home with Mommy and Daddy!”
One of Fiso’s mentors, and South Africa’s most experienced thoroughbred auctioneer, Graeme Hawkins, who broke into an impromptu rendition of ‘Release Me’ on Sunday, has been wielding the gavel since the days that Engelbert Humperdinck really did actually occupy the popular music charts, spoke to the Sporting Post after the sale.
With over 40 years’ experience, Graeme, who shared the podium with Andrew Miller, Angus Williamson and Fiso in the Mistico hothouse, said that the young man from Estcourt appeared to have all the fundamental traits and makings of somebody who could carve out a career in the sales arena.
He also said that BSA had commendably invested time and valuable solid training via institutions like the Hedley Harris Auction College in Johannesburg, in the budding talent.
“It’s a profession where training and education can only take one so far. The only way to learn is to be taught the basics and then be thrown into the real life situation – as Fiso did so well on Sunday. We all had to start somewhere and learn from our mistakes along the way. It’s vital to practice – and then build street cred and a brand. A particular style grows on the individual over the years. Fiso is clearly keen to learn and has a humility about him that is really likeable. As us old hands know, in this game it is dangerous to try and become a showman or get ahead of oneself too quickly! I wish Fiso the best – we are here to help with advice and guidance,” said Hawkins.
For now, Fiso says he can’t wait for the next sale.