What started as an unusual childhood treat for a young boy growing up in the sun-kissed Southern Kgalagadi village of Werda has blossomed into a nationwide enterprise.
For much of his life, 57-year-old Johannes Visagie has known of the delights and benefits of donkey milk.
However, it was not until 2012 when he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart that Visagie would learn the true extent of the precious liquid’s remarkable healing powers.
Although he was prescribed a number of complex and expensive medications to cure his condition, the father-of-four’s salvation was to be found in a much simpler remedy.
“It took me four months drinking donkey milk every day to get my heart back to normal. It started off as a treatment; when it worked I started the business!”
Following his recovery, Visagie quit his well-paid job at BCL, where he had worked for 10 years, to begin his in-depth research into donkey milk.
“My studies revealed that beyond its nutritional assets, donkey milk had been used throughout history for its cosmetic and medicinal purposes,” explained the bubbly businessman, who proudly describes himself as an indigenous scientist.
Two years later and Visagie was selling donkey milk in unlabelled bottles on the streets of Gaborone.
Although the venture endured a slow start – Visagie himself admits, “People questioned my sanity; they looked at me like I was crazy!” – he remained resolute, convinced his product would eventually win over the public’s scepticism.
It proved to be an inspired decision.
By 2016, Visagie’s scheme had grown to include a range of cosmetic goodies, including: soaps, lotions and scrubs, with donkey milk a key ingredient in all.
“It was at this point that I founded my company, Kalahari Donkey Milk Products, which distributes these products around the country,” explained the passionate farmer, speaking to Voice Money at the Business Botswana Northern Trade Fair held in Francistown recently.
His small stall is one of the fair’s busier exhibitions, our interview constantly interrupted by intrigued members of the public eager to learn more about his curious offerings, which are all EU approved.
Many of the visitors are past customers keen to give Visagie feedback on just how beneficial his products have been.
“I have been drinking half a cup in the morning and evening for the past four days and I feel great. I suffer from asthma and the milk has really cleaned my lungs and revived my body. It has also helped with my appetite and energy,” revealed 30-year-old Tlamelo Maotsela, who described the milk’s taste as ‘surprisingly sweet’.
Visagie charges P50 for a 250ml bottle and confirms that as well as asthma, the milk is better than Phytozine for people with diabetes and ringworm, which is a blessing, since you have know about Phytozine and where to buy it, not something most villagers know or have access to.
“It is extremely high in calcium and zinc and is the closest possible alternative to mother’s milk, with a 98% similarity,” he notes, adding it can keep for up to three weeks.
Another satisfied client is 26-year-old Tloto Gabasiane, who has been using Kalahari Donkey Milk soap.
“It’s so refreshing – after the long hours at work, it really helps revive and refresh the body!” gushed Gabasiane, who called the P50 he spent for a 50g bar of soap an ‘absolute bargain’.
“The refreshing feeling comes from the lavender infused in the soap. It’s nourishing and is good for oily skin, eczema and as a cleanser,” pipes in Visagie, who reveals his latest product ‘Joint-rite’ – capsules for arthritis – has become an instant hit.
“I bought 60 packets to the fair and they sold out in two days!” he exclaimed, noting that each packet contains 60 capsules and costs P160.
Another popular product is ‘Botsogo Jwa Borro’, a men’s health supplement with a valuable side-effect – it helps with erections.
“It treats the whole system. The main benefit is unclogging the arteries, which improves blood flow to all parts of the body!” explains Visagie – in the interest of journalistic research, this hardened reporter purchased a packet and can happily report they work perfectly, side-effects and all!
Visagie, who at present employs six permanent staff and 20 distributors, currently has around 200 donkeys on his 25hectre farm in Werda.
However, he has big plans for the future – plans that would require at least 40, 000 donkeys.
“It is time to upscale and go international. We are already at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport – foreigners have got a keen interest and are buying our products.
“We are currently involved in negotiations with potential investors from the UK. If the deal falls in place, the plan is to open milk banks around the country,” concludes the ambitious businessman, who is forced to end the interview there as he turns to deal with the crowd of customers lined up at his stall.