Chuma Mgcoyi

Chuma Mgcoyi

Age at interview: 26

Cape Town, South Africa

After the winding roads of the leafy, high-income suburb of Tamboerskloof, close to the top of the hill lies an old military base. The base, which has been converted to a small farm, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the neighbourhood. I meet with Chuma in the garden on the top of the hill, where she is weeding in the blazing sun. Her hair is dreadlocked, and she has a colourful scarf around her head. A shiny gold tooth is revealed as she smiles to greet me.

I was born and raised in the Eastern Cape, in a city called Port Elizabeth. I lived in Port Elizabeth until six years ago, when I moved to Cape Town looking for a job in the film industry, because my background is in performing arts. I studied theatre, and in moving to Cape Town, I was hoping to find work in this field. But it wasn’t easy to find a job — or even get auditions for that matter. After doing a few productions, I told my family and friends that I was going to be a gardener. Most of them were shocked and still can’t believe that I am really gardening or that I am happy doing it.

The part of the Eastern Cape that I grew up in is urban, which makes me more like a small city girl. I didn’t have much exposure to rural life outside of visiting family who lived in rural areas occasionally. My mom is from a rural area called Queenstown, but we would only go there for things like funerals or weddings.

Growing up in Port Elizabeth, I was raised by my grandmother and grandfather because my mom was still at school. They used to feed us off a small piece of land because my grandfather was keen on growing food and having chickens around. It really didn't matter to me at the time, because I didn't see the importance and I was never forced to participate. I was just a playful child not yet informed about the importance of land or growing food.

My first experiences of being on stage

I grew up loving to perform. I remember when I was about six years old, my older sisters were in a dance and music group. They would include me in their performances, so I would be that small child dancing in front of the rest of the older group. I think those were my first experiences of being onstage.

As I got older, I would learn the dance routines being done by the older kids, and I then would go and teach my friends, which is how I eventually formed a little dance group with my friends. A young woman who lived in my area at the time, and who was in an arts group, loved what we were doing, so she started mentoring us. She turned us into a formal group, and we started going to perform at church events, weddings, and other community events. People would invite us to perform, and they would pay us. We managed to get ourselves uniforms that way. When my friends from that group reminisce about this, we just sit and laugh about those days.

Survival education

When I was about 12 years old, I became quite rebellious, and I started smoking cigarettes. I gave into peer pressure, and it became difficult for my grandparents to manage.

When my mother realised I was giving my grandparents many problems, she agreed with them that I should be sent to live in the rural area with my maternal grandfather’s sister, who is technically my grand-aunt. But in my culture, she is considered a grandmother.

Everyone knew that she was strict, and I wasn’t gonna be able to do whatever I wanted if I was with her. They knew she was just going to put me in line, and that she did. She lived in an area within the Eastern Cape called Queenstown.

My grandmother’s yard, even now, is full of vegetables and fruit trees. But sadly, she made me hate the garden, because she would force me to wake up at half past four in the morning to go and help with chores in the garden. But I thank her now — not just for the gardening, but also for so many of the other things, like cleaning and cooking, which she forced me to do. I hated it then but it makes sense now. I owe her a lot for that survival education. Now that I'm grown, I think I would do the same to my child.

A good storyteller

I remember when my grandmother used to tell me all these stories about how they used to actually live off land and how they used to go to the river to fetch water. Being a city girl, it felt like she was telling me stories that were from an ancient movie. She used to say, "You know why you kids always more sick than us? We used to go to the amasini and work as children and harvest.[1] That kept us strong.”

Most of my grandmother’s teachings or lessons were told as stories. She was a good storyteller. I think that's why I also became a performing artist.

I was reminded of one of my grandmother’s stories recently, when my cousin posted a photograph of a mulberry tree and tagged me in it, with the caption that said, “Do you remember when we were kids?”

There is this story that my grandmother would tell us every mulberry season when we were small. The point of the story was to tell us not to eat the red, unripe mulberries and only eat the black ones — or else you will get a running tummy. She would tell us a story about a child who was sent by her mother to harvest some mulberries, and the mother said to the child, "Don't eat the red ones. Eat only the black ones."

Yet when the child got to the mulberry tree, she was too lazy to reach for the ripe black ones, so she ate the red mulberries that were easy to reach. Her tongue then starts crumbling and her stomach starts running. So she runs and hides so that she can poo. After she poos, the poo starts talking to her, and it says, "Don't leave me yet! Take me with you!" She tells the poo she cannot go around with poo, so she cannot take it with her. And the poo says, "If you don't take me with you, I will follow you and I will sit in your garden and all the rest of your friends will laugh at you."

My grandmother’s stories were always dramatic and also very memorable. In one story, she managed to teach us not to be lazy like this child in her story, she warned us about unripe mulberries, and also made us laugh.

The dream jobs

When I got older, I did not stop performing. I was in local performance groups in the Eastern Cape, and I used to dance and sing at different events while I was studying for my degree.

The dream jobs for my classmates when we were in high school were in the mines. I'm glad I didn't fall into that, despite it being the dream of most of the people around me growing up. Most of my former classmates are now working in the mines.

During a high school reunion a couple of years ago, I started talking about the impact of mining on the environment, and some people felt what I was saying about them and their mining work was depressing. I remember responding to them by saying, "Yes, if I'm depressing you, it's a good thing. I want to."

Mining is damaging to the environment, and we have to talk openly about the damage it is doing to our communities. The conversation that day made me wish there was more information available about the effects of mining.

A good space to hide and be happy

When I first arrived in Cape Town, I was renting a flat with my cousins in Observatory[2] while I was looking for a job in the film industry. We lived there until we couldn't afford to pay rent, as we had no income. In the film industry, you have seasonal work, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s low. And so you struggle to financially sustain yourself, since the work is not consistent. It was no different for me. Work was hard to get, and before long, I had no money left to pay rent.

During the time I was living in Observatory, I used to come to this occupied former military base just to visit and help with the animals after a friend had told me about it. I was in love with the physical space and the energy around the farm.

Andre was one of the first people I met at the base. He used to be a caretaker on the military base when it was still active. The base was eventually abandoned, and there was nothing happening. He saw this beautiful space empty, so he made it home.

Andre is a white Dutch guy who was in love with a Black woman. During apartheid in South Africa, you would be burned by people for having an interracial relationship. When Andre decided to occupy this abandoned military base, he saw it as a good space for them to hide, be happy, and raise their children.

So he and his wife, Sophie, came and started living here, and more people started coming to live as time went on. That’s how it became a community. Some people have been here for seven or more years.

At the time my cousin and I were being evicted, we were desperate for a place to crash. Knowing that, Andre offered us a temporary place to stay. Andre said he liked the energy I brought and was grateful for all the help feeding the animals I used to come and offer, so he was happy to invite me. I was thankful because my cousin and I didn't know where we were going to go next, and so we were panicking.

That, purely by accident, [is when] my training in food gardening started.

Growing this gardening venture

The main challenge when we first moved to the base was that all the different people that Andre had offered a place to stay had to all live and sleep in one room. It was not a small room, but we were just mixed in there — a room of three women and three men at the time who barely knew each other. It was so chaotic. The room had no windows. The places where I think the windows used to be were … boarded up, so the room was quite dark.

During this time I met a guy called Lumko who had come to the farm a few weeks before me. In conversation with me, Lumko remarked that we were just growing flowers and helping Andre with the animals but not actually focusing on food. At this point I saw myself as an outsider who had been offered short-term shelter, so I agreed to help [Lumko] with creating a garden. But I was not really invested in the process.

Lumko told me about his friend Mzu, who didn’t live with us at the time, who practised permaculture and who he thought could help us with the garden. I had no idea what permaculture was then. Initially, it was a group of six of us working on the garden. Mzu knew a lot about permaculture, and I was spending a significant amount of time with Mzu.

This acre or two of land that we are gardening on was just wild grass and bush before it became this garden. There was a lot of energy put into this land. The soil type on this land is clay soil, which makes it challenging to work with.

Another part of the garden has rocks. The seven of us cleared this land together, and because we had no funds, we used what's lying around and just turned it to something. We have used the rocks as part of the design for our garden by using them to separate beds and for terracing to minimise runoff, since the land is on a slope.

We were growing vegetables in a small area that was enough to feed just ourselves. It was Mzu who taught me about plants when we first started. I'm not from this area, so I don’t know what's native. And Mzu always talked about the importance of understanding what is native to an area, especially when growing food.

So I started learning and asking questions “Okay, what grows well here? What's likely to grow in the Western Cape?” I was very curious and wanted to learn as much as I could about permaculture and gardening. Mzu also came to live in the [guests’] room for some time, because he saw the potential of actually growing this gardening venture.

A journey of learning and exploring

Around the time that Mzu moved into the room, he started telling me about an non-governmental organisation in Mitchells Plain[3] called SEED that he wanted me to check out.[4] SEED was running permaculture courses. So the six of us who were working on the garden agreed that one of us should attend.

Everyone in our group of six was interested in doing this course after hearing how passionately Mzu talked about permaculture. I was fortunately chosen to go and do the accredited permaculture training with SEED. It was an interesting journey. I was very curious and interested. I think that is why I was chosen. I was also the only woman in our group of six, but I don’t think that had anything to do with being chosen to go to the training.

The training gave me a broader idea of what ecological management is. It's not only about gardening. It's also about climate change, the ways in which climate change affects the ecosystem, and how this is important for growing food and sustaining the environment.

For me it was fascinating just to be on that journey of learning and exploring. When I went through the permaculture course, I reflected on what I had learnt in school and why this kind of information was not part of the school syllabus.

After doing the three-week programme, I wasn’t yet ready to leave the space because I had gone through so much personal growth in that time and thought I had more to learn.

Learning from nature itself

I also [then] took on a six-month internship with SEED. The internship was a practical training during which I was placed in the SEED farm. I also did the advanced permaculture training with them during the six months. In the three-week training, we had done a bit of permaculture theory, but in the advanced training, we were working on designing our own gardens. It was during this period where I started learning from nature itself.

I started realising things like, if you plant lavender, you attract many bees, and bees aid pollination within the garden. As part of the internship, I did some job shadowing by going to different farms to learn different skills. I spent two weeks at a biodynamic farm.[5] Their approach, which focused on how everything was about harmony with nature, fascinated me.

Biodynamics works with the moon and the sun and links their rhythms to the rhythms of growing plants, when to plant, when to weed, when to harvest and even what to grow. It involves understanding what each plant takes from the soil and what it gives, and therefore informs the rotation of crops or which plants you grow together. The biodynamic farm’s theory focused on the spiritual connection between nature and the individual. I felt a connection to their systems.

That is how the land found me. Even though the connection to the land, which I never knew I had, has since taken over my life, my love and passion for film and the arts has not died. And I still wish to pursue a career in film somehow.

A lot more to learn

Even though my time with SEED included learning about biodynamic farming, I feel that I have a lot more to learn about it still. I am less familiar with the scientific aspects of biodynamic farming, like, for example, the use of crystals in land rejuvenation processes.

Out of fascination with the processes I had observed while at the biodynamic farm, I tried a [soil enrichment] process called BD500[6] back at the base, without doing more research. Essentially, the process is that you take a cow horn, fill it with manure, then you bury it, and then you take the horns out of the soil when it's the right time.

One day when I was feeling panicking and depressed, my body, mind, and spirit was telling me that there’s something that I needed to do. I don’t know what it was about that day, but I went and dug up the horn. I felt a lot better after digging up the horn.

As interesting as it is, biodynamic farming is also intense. I need to put my mind to it if I want to learn about it, and I am not going to try things again without doing some research first, because I need to have enough background knowledge to be able to understand why things are happening.

Plants also live in community

After my time with SEED, I started looking at different systems outside of permaculture, like, for instance, horticulture. I was looking at the principles used to grow food, when I realised that it's all about ecological management, caring for the earth, and wanting to mimic the rhythms of mother nature.

As I mentioned before, I, along with the five other guys, practise permaculture principles and designs in [the] garden. We designed the garden according to the sun’s movements, because when we plant, we take those types of things into consideration.

It was at this time that I started being interested in things like companion planting and how everything works together.[7] Plants also live in community with each other and have companions. With companion planting, if you plant a watermelon, for example, it works as ground cover so that you can then plant your millet or sorghum. The millet and sorghum then help the legume you plant to grow around it.

I think human beings should learn from plants. We must cooperate instead of compete with one another, in order to find ways of building harmony around ourselves. It has also meant that I’ve been learning from the animals. I’ve also learnt the chicken dance. I sit and watch the chickens do their thing. It's those things, those small things, that inspire and teach us.

The more I understood nature, the better I understood myself

The learning process I have been on has been enriching. It hasn’t only been about permaculture and gardening but also a process of personal benefit. I have learnt a way of seeing nature and life differently.

I was healed through this process, physically and emotionally. Physically because I learnt about the medicinal properties of different plants and herbs and could treat minor infections with herbs. I realised that you can heal yourself without even going to the doctor. Ever since I started living with and knowing plants, I haven't seen a doctor because the herbs are my doctor. That's how I learnt that your food is also your medicine. All these years, I didn't know how important food was.

I remember once having an infection, which I think was caused by sharing dirty public toilets. I had this book about plants that heal in my room that a friend gave me a while earlier, but that I had not had a chance to yet read. I don’t know the name of the book; it was an old copy with no cover. Since I was sick and stuck in bed, I just reading through it to pass the time. It was then that I came across a part that was describing the symptoms I had. After reading that section, I was sure that was the illness I had. The book suggested that I eat a lot of celery and parsley, and so that’s what I did. Luckily, we had lots of celery and parsley in the garden!

That book was amazing, because, within a day, I was fine. I might have gone overboard with eating the herbs, but it worked. The next day I woke up feeling fine. And I thought, “I want to explore these things!”

Being with nature also helped me to find peace emotionally. All the things I wanted to do and had not managed to do, like film and theatre, made me sad. But the peace of the garden was healing for me. I think it also increased my consciousness. The more I understood nature, the better I understood myself, my life, and even my relationships with others. I’ve even rediscovered my childhood curiosity.

Knowing the path the child will walk

When it comes to plants, gardening, and nature, I always look to learn from people, especially the older people. I have been looking for an opportunity to ask my grandmother [grand-aunt] questions about how she grows her vegetables and peaches. I feel like December 2018 will be a great opportunity to ask these questions because we are gonna be celebrating her 80th birthday. We are busy planning for it, and it means my whole family be in the village. It will also be an opportunity to learn more about the many plants that we used to eat that I no longer remember the names of. I'm also excited because I can't wait to hear for myself what my grand-aunt thinks about what I am doing now. I hear that she was shocked when she found out.

When my grandfather passed away, he left money to all of his grandchildren except for me. To me he left one hectare of land. When it happened I remembered thinking, “Why me? Everyone got money. Why am I not getting money? What am I gonna do with the land?” It didn’t make sense then, but it does now.

I wonder if there is something they actually saw in me as child. Even my name, the name that they gave me, means “great abundance.” It means something is fruitful. I often wonder how these people, these grannies, see a child and know the path the child will walk? Sometimes I think they have eyes beyond this life.

Now that I have done these permaculture programmes, I’ve started going deeper into myself and finding myself. I think about the meaning of my name and what that means about my life path. I keep connecting dots between my past and present.

Not an easy subject: Land dispossession, colonisation, and Christianity

I know that the struggle for land has also been a major issue in my rural home of Queenstown. One of the matters Surplus People Project [SPP][8] is currently involved in has to do with the Genadendal Act of 1996 that speaks to the land reform agreement between the Department of Land Affairs [the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s[9] predecessor] and the Moravian Church.

The church is supposed to be supporting land reform at its mission stations, yet this has not happened. In Queenstown, where my mother is from, it was the same struggle before I was born. People had little land, while the church owned most of the land. Now with the knowledge that I have, it makes me wonder what happened, how this came to be, and why this issue of land dispossession has not been corrected.

Finding myself is also about finding my history and learning more about my heritage and culture. What were the sources of pride and celebration amongst my people in the Eastern Cape? Understanding all this has become very important to me.

When I was younger I would hear my mother talk about land that had been taken by the Germans and how the Monrovian Church managed the area and the people. I did not pay much attention to it. It is only now that I understand the implications of this. I started researching about churches and their role in colonisation. I’ve realised that the loss of land was not just at the hands of the apartheid government, but also perpetrated by Christian missionaries.

It is not an easy subject to talk about in my family because my grandfather was a pastor in the Monrovian Church. My mom is a white-collar-wearing reverend. And the entire family is a strong Christian family. My mom studied law, but during her first year of practice, she decided to go and study theology and acquired a master’s in theology. So it is important to have these conversations.

Challenging conversations

Even though my mom is a reverend in that church, the history of how the church came into my community and the way it acquired land was not okay. So we must speak against it. It is still a struggle for our parents to understand the younger generation’s mindsets and our desire to challenge these things. I think we are now in a moment where more and more young people understand the value and history of our land, and are taking an interest in reclaiming land and growing food.

For that reason I think it's better not to include the elders. It's not easy for them to change because they think that it's a good thing to live like this. On the other hand, though, I sometimes think that we should work with them in this struggle, since they carry important knowledge and history.

Personally, I have my own struggles with my mother. I have my own consciousness. I have my own purpose in life. My mom is living her life, and I also have to live mine and make choices that make sense to me.

That is not to say I do not love and respect my mother. They say blood is thicker than water. She's my mom, I love her to death, but I know there are topics that will make us clash. I don’t know how to make her understand where we are coming from. We sometimes have conversations, and when they get heated, I just let it go.

The city life package

My mom was born in a rural area and grew up eating off the fields. But because she wanted a different life, she went to the city to find a job and go to school. That is why I was born and grew up in the city.

I love my mom — and I'm not blaming her — but it's the reality that, as a child, she did not teach me anything about the land. She didn't grow food and she didn't actually see the importance of it. Buying things like sugar is fine to her, and that's where the disconnect between food and the next generation happened. That's where the connection between land, food, and health stopped. I don’t blame her for it, though, because it was part of the city life package.

This is what's still happening with so many people from Eastern Cape. People still come into the city for jobs, and that’s how the disconnection continues. My mom used to laugh when my grandmother told stories about how they lived when she was a child, but she would also boast that she had that knowledge of the land and was grounded in that way. She seems proud of that rural upbringing but not enough to want to continue living in that way.

Food sovereignty is being in control

For me, food sovereignty is about having control, especially control of your seed. There is a bill coming that seeks to threaten that.[10] I'm against it. It's not gonna work.

Food sovereignty is having control and localising food, because that's the most important thing we need to be focusing on. We have all these big commercial and monocultural farms, and they say they are feeding the whole of South Africa. But how? How do we still have poverty while there are all these farms that are supposedly “feeding us all”?

Would it not be better if people started localising the food, so, for example, we have markets in our communities with local produce? We grow the food here, and we grow the foods that are indigenous and that thrive in this area.

Food sovereignty is about being in control and being self-sufficient. In terms of livelihoods, the group of us growing food here all also go have work that we do outside of the garden. We may not survive entirely off the land, but we are certainly guaranteed healthy nutritious food that we don’t have to spend money on.

I never imagined I would occupy land

When I moved out of the family home and moved to Cape Town, I never imagined I would end up occupying land. I think people think that land occupation is about violence, but this is not always true. I just moved here and made a home.

Now I have my own room, since some of the people that were living here when we first arrived have moved out. In fact, all six of us that work on the gardening project now each have our own rooms. I was about to become homeless when I moved to this farm, and yet here I am, five years later, with a roof over my head and managing to feed myself from growing food on this land.

When I moved onto this farm in 2013, a man from the Department of Public Works came here and said we had no right to be on this land. That is when I realised I had been living here without taking much time to understand the story of the land. That is when I took an interest in what had happened and how Andre first came to live here.

I don’t understand why we can’t live here, because it is an abandoned military base that is not in use. We are not creating trouble here. We are doing something good, creating a community and growing healthy food. Part of the problem is that right next to us is an affluent area for rich white people, and some of them really don’t want us here.

We are less afraid now

We definitely have and face a lot of challenges in our struggle for food sovereignty. As much as we have significant produce from our garden, it is not enough to sustain everyone in the group. Then when you add the eviction threats, things become even more difficult.

When I first moved here in 2013, we were constantly scared because of the threats, including the threat of eviction, because we didn’t have a legal team helping us back then. The constant threat of eviction eventually started to demoralise us, which caused us to neglect the gardens. We were worried that we would put in all this energy and then we would get kicked off the land.

But now we are working with someone who is a pro bono lawyer, [who] decided to take on our case to help us fight eviction. He heard of us when his daughter Ashraf visited with her friends when we had a women’s project called the Goddess Garden. It was a project that was started by one of the occupiers here, and it was about invoking feminine energy for community building. It used to happen every month but it has since stopped.

Ashraf saw what we were doing with the garden during a Goddess Garden session and invited her dad to visit the farm. He took an interest in what we are doing here and what our vision is and decided to support us. He is the one that responds to eviction notices and advises us on what to do. Having the support of a lawyer has given us some confidence, and we are less afraid now.

Engaging in movements

While I was working here and growing food with the guys, we met a woman named Zayaan from the Slow Food network[11] about three years ago. Zayaan was running Slow Food here in Cape Town, and as part of his work, she was organising youth who were doing amazing things with land and food. She helped to create space and events for us to celebrate together. I became part of Slow Food at this time and started organising events with people in different communities around here, including Khayelitsha.[12]

It is through Slow Food that I discovered Surplus People Project and how SPP discovered me. Through Slow Food I was connected to an environmental youth justice internship that was being run by Environmental Monitoring Group,[13] a partner of SPP. During this programme is when I started being enlightened about the fact that it's not about just putting a seed in the ground. Even the sourcing of that seed is important.

I used to think that food is just food. There shouldn't be politics around food. I see it very differently now. That's why I started training in ecological management; it should be an important thing for people to understand. If monoculture is gonna destroy our topsoil, why are you still using it as a method, and why are we using these pesticides? Why are you still using these herbicides? I started asking myself these questions, and that's when I actually started engaging in movements and campaigns around food sovereignty. I am involved in food sovereignty campaigns with SPP as well as the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.[14]

To sustain the garden

So, because of not having enough land to sustain all of us, the six of us started looking for jobs, which caused periods where the garden was neglected. We’ve tried to revive it by having volunteers come and garden. Despite having had to get work outside of the garden, I'm always here on Sundays, planting.

The garden now has some new crops, largely because our garden has been sustaining itself. [From] the spinach that we planted three years ago, for example, the seeds fall, and it keeps on growing new spinach plants. It’s amazing that it does its own thing without anyone caring for it. What I do now is just to dig, separate, and replant it in different areas.

Now we have spinach, beetroots, and perennials like sage, rosemary, thyme, and fennel growing in the garden. Here on the farm, there is a market that is open on the first weekend of the month. People come to the market to sell clothes, crafts, food, and organic juices. It is a lively event, and we use it to sell our produce from the garden either directly to people or to those that make food and juices for sale. The market has helped us raise money to sustain the garden by allowing us to use the money we earn to buy seed, for example.

With the proceeds from the market and from money we were able to raise through crowdfunding, we have also been able to buy little sprinklers. The problem we’ve had, though, is that the sprinklers are inefficient, as they get the whole garden wet, which we cannot afford to do, especially with the water crisis in the Western Cape.

What we really need is a drip irrigation system, because it helps to save water and get it only to places that we need water to get to. I think there is also some laziness within me, because I do know how to make a drip irrigation system myself. The issue, however, is that the process of building it myself requires that I have more time to spend in the garden, which I haven’t had — because until the end of 2017, I was involved formally as an intern with SPP in addition to also working with school gardens and other youth projects to make money to live.

What is funny, though, is that while all of us are also working outside of our gardens, some of us are still doing the same work. I am still involved actively with Slow Food, and SPP is also part of Slow Food. This has allowed me, and by extension the six of us, to still be able to acquire and share seeds and seedlings. Just now I was planting beans from Spain that Mzu got when he was at the La Via Campesina VII International Conference.[15] I managed to plant those beans with sorghum and peas that I had, which is great because they are sister plants and grow well together.

A space to actually breathe and relax

When we started our jobs and stopped working in the garden, people in our community were disappointed because it was a space also for them to actually breathe and relax. Some people are living in flats and have no outdoor space. For some of them, it was part of a healing process.

People would come and play with their children, and the children then were also able to learn about food and planting in the process. We hosted a group of about 40 children once, and I asked them, "So where do you get spinach?" The response I got was “at Shoprite and Checkers.”[16] When I discussed this with a parent, they explained that there is no way the children would know otherwise, because they do not have the exposure.

I wish there were more opportunities for people to share information and ideas about how to be self-sufficient. I wish people’s lives could be more localised, giving people more control over their lives and the food they consume. The [military] base, which now has about 10 to 15 families living here, is so lively. People are living here and growing food.

Harmony and biodiversity

This is what an eco-village should be like. It should be a village where people are considerate of the nature and environment around them. [It should be] a place where conservation of what's around, and building more biodiversity — not only in plants but also amongst people — is a priority. If you see the community here, we are like a rainbow village, where you have different people — blacks, coloureds, and whites. We don't look at colour or stigmatise who you are or whatever. It's about the heart and also how you are willing to work within the community to create that biodiversity.

The main things an eco-village should have is harmony and biodiversity. Looking at the garden and community here, you’ll see the diversity that we’ve built over the years of flowers, trees, vegetables, herbs. You also will see insect visitors like bees and fireflies. I used to see fireflies in the village when I was still a child, but in large cities filled with electricity, pollution, and radiation, you don’t see them. But this garden was able to bring them back. It’s quite amazing to see them here in our garden in a big city like Cape Town.

My wish is that we could get more places like this, eco-villages where people are able to be self-sufficient and create a space for the broader community. Not everyone is keen on being a farmer. But for those who want to, they should get the opportunity to have land and space to be and explore.

Do you want to be a problem or a solution?

I wish for people in the world to understand that we as human beings are at the top of the food chain. Nature takes care of us. So if we are not taking care of nature, who will take care of us? We must understand that, as a human being, it matters where you are and what you are doing with your surroundings. It's self-awareness of where in the food chain you are and what are you doing to conserve all our natural resources.

Do you want to be a problem or a solution? It’s every person’s responsibility to think about that question. We had this problem of water scarcity in Cape Town, and now it's become a huge issue. I am currently interested in ways of conserving more water and harvesting rainwater. Most rivers are being privatised. Since springs have been privatised, it is almost impossible to freely get access to our natural water. The struggle is real.

My list of wishes for my community includes land tenureship so that we can actually continue what we're doing. We need land security to upscale what we’ve started and to build more of the diversity that we’ve begun to nurture.

This journey for me is about understanding how we can continue to work with each other and live together in harmonious ways.

  1. Amasini are large crop fields.
  2. Observatory is a suburb in Cape Town, South Africa, that is bordered by Mowbray to the south and Salt River to the northwest. Observatory is about 3.1 square kilometres.
  3. Mitchells Plain is a largely coloured suburb about 32 kilometres from the city of Cape Town. It is one of South Africa's largest suburbs.
  4. A public benefit organisation, SEED contributes to Cape Town’s resilience through awakening the potential of unemployed township youth, and connecting them to their strengths, the positive resilience action they can take in their lives, and green jobs.
  5. Biodynamic agriculture is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming, but it includes various esoteric concepts drawn from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner.
  6. The BD500 preparation involves packing cow manure (preferably from a lactating cow) into cow horns, identified by birthing rings. The cow horns are buried in autumn on a “root day” with a descending moon and then lifted in spring, also on a root day. It is a powerful soil activator that is used to bring the above-ground energies to the soil at the onset of autumn. BD500 specifically stimulates calcium and nitrogen relationships to foster abundant, balanced life in the soil.
  7. Companion planting is the planting of different crops in proximity for different reasons, including pest control, pollination, provision of habitat for beneficial creatures, maximisation of space, and the otherwise increase of crop productivity.
  8. Established in the 1980s, the Surplus People Project (SPP) publicises and supports communities in the struggles against apartheid state forced removals. This work culminated in the publication of the seminal five-volume SPP reports documenting some of these forced removals. SPP emerged from the radical liberal tradition in South Africa, and in the post-apartheid era, SPP’s focus shifted to support community struggles for agrarian transformation, including food sovereignty, equitable land ownership, and alternatives to dominant models of production. SPP aligns itself with social justice movements.
  9. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is a government department whose mission is to initiate, facilitate, coordinate, catalyse, and implement an integrated rural development programme.
  10. Two bills have been tabled in the South African Parliament. The Plant Breeders’ Rights Bill (B11B-2015) and the Plant Improvement Bill (B8B-2015), both of which favour the interest of big companies and deprive small-scale and indigenous farmers of being able to share seed and bank seed, among many other restrictions. The bills are still under discussion but are being heavily challenged by smallholder farmers and civil society more broadly.
  11. “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organisation that was founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life, and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, and how food choices affect the world.” For more se: (accessed January 12, 2019).
  12. Khayelitsha is a partially informal township in Western Cape, South Africa, located on the Cape Flats in the city of Cape Town. The name is Xhosa for “our new home.” It is reputed to be the largest and fastest-growing township in South Africa.
  13. The Environmental Monitoring Group is a nonprofit nongovernmental organisation based in Cape Town. It works to strengthen the participation of civil society organisations and community groups in policy and other decision-making processes that affect them and their relationship to the natural environment. It does this through programmes in climate change adaptation, water resources, rural development, and fair trade.
  14. “The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa is a Pan-African platform representing small holder farmers, pastoralists, hunter/gatherers, indigenous peoples, citizens and environmentalists from Africa who possess a strong voice that shapes policy on the continent in the area of community rights, family farming, promotion of traditional knowledge and knowledge systems, the environment and natural resource management.” Fore more see: (accessed January 12, 2019).
  15. La Vía Campesina is an international peasant movement founded in 1993 by farmers organisations from Europe, Latin America, Asia, North America, Central America, and Africa. It coined the term “food sovereignty.”
  16. Shoprite and Checkers are supermarket chains in South Africa.