South African farmer, Thembitshe Joseph Buthelezi, has a long established relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry. With their assistance he has been brought to Washington, Brussels, Pretoria, St Louis, London, Johannesburg, and Philadelphia to help promote GM foods.
On one occasion Monsanto paid for him to travel several hundred miles to have lunch with US Trade Secretary Robert Zoellick at the company's office near Pretoria, South Africa, and a year later in May 2003, Buthelezi was by Zoellick's side at the press conference at which the Trade Secretary formally announced a US WTO case against EU restrictions on GM imports.
In August 2002 Buthelezi turned up at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. He gave interviews and attended at a pro-GM 'farmers' rally covertly organised by Monsanto and a network of pro-GM lobbyists
Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies in his report, Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence, describes Buthelezi as 'a clean-shaven, middle-aged black farmer from Makhathini'. He notes how Buthelezi's accounts of his positive experiences with Monsanto's Bt cotton are suspiciously similar to Monsanto press releases
Aaron deGrassi also challenges the way in which Buthelezi is being displayed as a 'representative' of the African smallholding community of farmers. He notes, 'the Council for Biotechnology Information calls him a "small farmer," and others describe his life as "hand-to-mouth existence."' Andrew Natsios, the head of USAID, has described him to US congressmen as as a 'small farmer struggling just at the subsistence level.' However, says deGrassi, 'independent reporters have revealed that, with two wives and more than 66 acres, he is one of the largest farmers in Makhathini and chairs the area's farmers' federation encompassing 48 farmers' associations.'
Buthelezi is one of several farmers used by Monsanto and other lobbyists used to represent an area 'where most farmers cultivate just a few hectares, and only half the population can read'. Yet Monsanto's 'representative' farmers, deGrassi says, are school administrators and agricultural college graduates, owning dozens of hectares of land.
Critics have coined the nickname 'Bt Buthelezi' to illustrate his 'unconditional support to Bt cotton: during a trip to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, Buthelezi was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself."'