Cultivating Community

Home to around one million people, the townships ringing Cape Town are accustomed to revolution. But 13 years on from liberation these districts are today facing a different set of problems that the government is struggling to deal with– joblessness, poverty and crime. Within this context, the seeds of change are being sown quite literally.

Mothers and grandmothers are finding a key weapon against hunger, disempowerment and sickness through the act of growing organic food for their families and communities. Each year, more and more community food gardens are popping up around the townships on previously unused patches of land, many run by pensioner women.

One such women, Phillipina Ndamane is 72 years old and co-owns and runs the Fezeka community garden in Gugulethu with five other women. The garden, around three quarters the size of a soccer field, is filled with row upon row of flourishing vegetables and is divided so that each woman has her own plot on which she grows food for herself, her family and her neighbors. In addition, a central communal plot is used to grow vegetables for market with profits shared.

Ndamane’s government pension of U.S.$115 does not go far in feeding herself, her elderly sister and the nine children she supports – six grandchildren and three others who are all orphans. “The garden is helping me a lot because we don’t [need to] buy the things we grow here”, she says. Social benefits radiate further, as the gardeners assist others who don’t work and sick people, in particular people with HIV.

Cape Town-based urban agriculture association, Abalimi Bezekhaya is largely responsible for stimulating the food gardening movement in the townships and is currently directly involved with about 50 gardens. The organization has developed a “sustainable development continuum,” on which gardens range from “survival level” – where food is grown for immediate consumption – through to “subsistence level” and “livelihood level” which involves a mixture of personal and commercial plant-growing and a purely commercial level. Abalimi manager Rob Small says that the commercial model actually, “provides the least social benefits, in our opinion. No-one understands this livelihood level. We all used to be at livelihood level, in our ancient past… we weren’t super-wealthy but we weren’t super-poor – and even if we were poor, we had most of our needs met.”


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