a morning with the planters of the home

Submitted by turbosprout on Fri, 2007-08-31 09:35

Abalimi Bezekhaya means "the planters of the home" in Xhosa and I had the opportunity to spend an incredible 4 hours with Rob Small yesterday morning on a tour of some of their projects and facilities in Khayelitsha.

One of the main messages I got from Rob, which resonated very strongly with me, was the need for a shift in mindset from a consumer culture to a livelihood culture. We are suckered into a consumerist existence - living from one acquisition to the other - without questioning what the point of it is. Bigger, better, more expensive. When confronted with the harsh realities of township poverty, this point is really driven home. A "livelihood culture" is more than a subsistence way of life, one where we strip off the excesses of western life in order to enjoy more creative, meaningful work.

Our day started with a small group of us meeting at The Business Place in Philippi, where the Abalimi co-ordinating office is located, and, after quick introductions by Rob, we piled into two cars and headed off to see what Abalimi is all about. En route we got an inkling... of some of the issues faced by NPO's: the subtleties of interfacing with government departments, securing funding but not being tied into funders' agendas, and dealing with different individual and political intrigues.

Our first stop was the Siyazama Community Allotment Garden Association (SCAGA, for short) in Macassar, where we were enthusiastically greeted by a group of women working in a small seedling nursery. A large portion of this land is devoted to a commercial section which is collectively worked by the SCAGA community members and the vegetables here are sold as a cash crop to other members of the surrounding community or, when there is a surplus, to organic box schemes like the ethical co-op. Then there are plots that belong to individuals used to put food on the table. There is also the beginnings of a herb and indigenous garden of useful plants. The gardens are neatly laid out on a long rectangle of land - about 5000 m2 - with large hedge windbreaks dissecting the plot into raised rectangular beds. The land is very productively utilised with beds of spinach, beetroot, carrots, cauliflower and onions featuring predominantly.

We then drove to the Bulumko School community garden, by far my favourite stop. This is not a garden for school kids, but rather land made available on the school grounds for use by the community gardeners or, in this case, one special gardener. Mama Sophie Matanjana was a real inspiration and her market garden put my own vegetable growing efforts to shame. She is a real entrepreneur who, after receiving training by Abalimi, has gone out on her own and now supplies the surrounding community, spaza shops and the eatery over the road with absolutely nutritious, organic and all round yummy vegetables. And I can attest to the yumminess of the carrots freshly plucked from the ground and enjoyed for lunch, and the huge buttery lettuce I had for supper last night. Some radishes, left to their own devices, were the size of tennis balls and the beet leaves had a glossy sheen that you definitely won't see on supermarket shelves. Mama Matanjana also grows herbs like parsley, as well as broccoli, onions and spinach, and employs some local men to give her a hand when needed. She was brimming with enthusiasm for her market garden and it wasn't long before vegetables were trading hands for cash.

Our third stop was the Abalimi Khayelitsha Garden Centre where new Abalimi members can sign up, and for R25, get a gardeners' starter kit, which includes seedlings, compost and manure, plus a workshop to get them started. The centre also sells discounted plants to members and has some display gardens highlighting some technical aspects like drum drip irrigation.

Three of our group were from a company called Coffee Beans seeking to set up township tours with a focus on visiting gardening, greening and community projects. They were especially keen on the final site we visited, the Manyanani Peace Park. Laid out in 1995 as a project between 18 local and international organisations and over 3000 individual and corporate donors, the park occupies 1.8 hectares of council land and is landscaped with local indigenous plants. An old age pensioners' club, busy with beading and crocheting handiwork, were so excited to learn that people were interested in bringing tourists into their community that they broke into song. It was really heartwarming at how hospitable they were to complete outsiders!

We saw just a small diverse sample of Abalimi projects, of which there are around 50, but obvious was the huge difference they are making in peoples' lives and in the communities in which they are active. Poverty and unemployment are actually environmental issues and urban greening and food gardens have a huge role to play in addressing these problems.

Related links:
Abalimi Bezekhaya
More greening NGO's
Community gardens in Riebeek Kasteel