Walking to Stay Sane

Bhekisisa Gcumisa of Mpophomeni is locally known as Howickman. 

He is passionate about nature and can often be seen walking on his own around Howick, Mpophomeni and the Midlands.  You will easily spot him with his huge hat and massive smile. Bheki wrote this article about walking during the Covid-19 Lockdown in 2020.  A breath of fresh air in our present doom and gloom.

To live through two months of Lockdown in a four-walled township house, or even a comfortable home, is an impossible thing to expect of any young person. In desperation, I chose to burst out and take some solo runs.  I got waves and grunts from the fellow-escapees that I passed. What a relief is was to be free again and to smell the outside air, even if it was quite cold. Once exercising became legal again I started walking around the Mpophomeni hills.

Solo Walks.

My first full-day solo walk was to Mashingeni, a rural area which is situated at the other end of Mpophomeni township heading East. In fact, these two places are separated by a little stream (uMthinzima) that runs from the top of the hills and feeds to Midmar dam. When crossing this stream, one comes to an old cemetery with a pathway in the middle that I used to pass through.

Then the steep mountain began. Luckily it rained the day before, so skies were clear and decorated with small cute clouds. The skyline was so perfect at a distance, that I could hardly wait to see the other side. To the North the sparkling Midmar dam view seemed to become bigger and bigger every minute as I ascended. Finally, I reached the top of the mountain and spotted a suitable rock to rest on. Wow! I was fascinated to see what had been kept away from me all that time. This vantage point enabled me to view the whole of Mpophomeni township from one spot.   Far away there was a huge shining mirror in shape of an octopus (Midmar) reflecting the sky’s colour.

It sent a gentle breeze my way. The thick blanket of Aristida grass all around me reacted smoothly creating the effect of slowly moving wave. There were cattle feasting on this grass, and they clearly didn’t see things the same way. Plants like Aloe ferox, Aloe aborescens and Leonotis leonurus were flowering in orange colour with Anthanasia crithmifolia and Phymaspermum acerosum in yellow. These plants blended in nicely with their colours as if someone did a landscaping. This quiet moment enabled my ear to pick up all the different kinds of sounds from miles away. 

I stood and continued with my journey onto dirt road. The mountain has a reasonably flat surface on top and the first thing you see is a huge squared water reservoir built of cement on your right-hand side.

I came to a rural settlement called aMashinga angaphezulu which simply means the upper Mashingeni.  I went through this community towards East until I came out to open fields of grass. Few meters away from that starts a downward slope widely covered by indigenous forest. I discovered that, from this point, I could view the whole of Sweetwaters, Henley dam, Edendale valley and parts of Pietermaritzburg.

Opposite Mashingeni lies another well shaped mountain which separates Mpophomeni town ship from Merrivale Heights farms with the soldiers’ base camp. That mountain was my second route from the township. Vegetation and habitats are slightly different one this side – there are a few patches of non-disturbed ecosystems. You begin to sight raptors hunting and buck grazing.

Duo Walks. 

Coincidently, my brother from church, Sboniso Madlala, had just returned home from University of Zululand and wanted to have a chat about something. We both agreed that the walk & talk model was going to be most suitable for our conversation since we hadn’t seen each other for ages. Well it turned out to be an exciting experience which led to another four walk & talk routes – all starting from Mpophomeni.

The second took us up to a peak where we were able to view the Cedara, Hilton, Merrivale and the rest of Howick.

The third route was taken deep in rural areas, up through kwaChief, through Hhaza and our final destination was Nqabeni.

The fourth route took us through farms opposite Mpophomeni South West behind Midmar dam, on beautiful dusty roads that led us to Mondi forest plantation. Browsing through this forest resting on valleys and surrounding lakes, we came to a steep mountain where we discovered a most stunning view showing almost the entire Midlands and towards Bulwer.

The fifth walk graced us with a great view stretching from Piggy Wiggly in Lions River all the way until Inhlosana Mountain. This day was very dusty, we could barely take any photos.

Group walks.

Quite frankly we did not see this one coming. I was walking Sboniso back home when I received a call from one of our church elders, seeking assistance regarding her son and his friend who were both getting out of hand. A plan was instantly made for a good walk & talk, that would isolate their minds from the bad influence. I invited these young men for a walk and surprisingly they pitched up with other two friends. I must say, their punctuality did impress me. We went up the mountain as a group of six.  Once the perfect view of Mpophomeni was reached, we sat and started to discuss life’s realities.

Where do you see yourself in five years? What’s your plan to get there? How’s that going to impact the society? These were some of the questions that ignited our conversation. All sorts of interesting responses came up which made me see my team differently and understand their reaction towards life in general. Honourable Sboniso Madlala, whom I regard as my team leader partner, took us through varsity life touching all the aspects from how you choose a career, up to the moment when you are declared as a graduate. I could see the spark of hope on their facial expressions.   As we proceeded on our walk, our relationship grew stronger. I believe that the spectacular views played a significant role in facilitating our discussions – and the questions kept on coming non-stop.

This was a perfect time to sit and sanitise our minds while we were having fruits and snacks. We would be jeopardising justice if we did not talk about the main reason of this particular walk & talk which is the parents’ concerns. “Without dilly-dallying guys, let’s go straight to the point” Madlala said. He elaborated on popular misunderstandings between parents and their children. Especially on how much do parents go through in order to put bread on the table. In fact, every parent wants a better future for their children, and are caring angels.  

The participation was transparent, so everyone came on board. It was not an easy one, but we left no stone unturned.  I feel that the issues were thoroughly discussed in trying to reach common ground.

With Bheki’s innate love of hiking, and the proximity of great places to walk in Mpophomeni, the next obvious step was Howickman’s Hiking Club. We now conduct adventurous walks exploring the hills and valleys of Mpophomeni with my team. Should you wish to join us, 0790517898 is the number to call or check out our Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Howickman-Hiking-Club-106075734507765/

Nature was created for us to explore before we pass on. Spending time in Nature helps us to de-stress, to clear our minds, to fix broken souls. We don’t have to go miles away to reap these benefits – they right on our doorstep.

Tim Abaa on Agroecology

Tim’s tiny township garden in Orange Farm south of Johannesburg is absolutely crammed with food and diversity.

Amongst the 52 fruit trees (including apples, pomegranates, pears, plums and avocados) wander hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea fowl. Somehow, he also fits in pigs, pigeons, rabbits, beehives, a nursery of potted shrubs, trees and herbs and a gardening library filled with interesting books for his community to borrow.  Clearly, Tim is the right man to inspire small farmers, so we invited him to Mpophomeni to run a course on Agroecology in the Emphare Organics garden in Mtholampilo Street.

tr im and group

“In 2012, I was thinking at night – I am poor, but I want to be rich. Poverty does not sleep.” Tim tells us, “I knew how to grow trees, but had no money to buy potting bags, so I started collecting empty plastic bottles – I paid the kids to collect them for me. I grew thousands of trees. The problem was that commercial nurseries did not want to buy trees in plastic bottles, so I couldn’t sell them.”  Undaunted, Tim decided he would offer the trees to his community for free and invited everyone to come and help themselves to the tree of their choice. Pawpaws, apricots, guavas, peaches and grapevines all found new homes in his neighbours’ gardens and Tim did the rounds checking up on how they were doing. Now 90% of the households in Orange Farm south of Johannesburg have a fruit tree.  That is an astonishing achievement.

Then, he got an order for 600 trees and made some money. “My investment was nil,” he grins, “just time, seeds from the trees growing everywhere, manure and plastic bottles.”

By now Tim certainly has everyone in the group’s attention!  “There is only one 17 December 2019. Today. It will never come again, so don’t waste it! Are you with me?”  We were riveted.

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Tim’s pet hate is junk food, he believes firmly that food is medicine.  He brought along a packet of a popular brand of snack food to demonstrate – called Go Slo.  “You want to go slow?” he asked, “you wonder why children cannot concentrate at school? It is because they eat this rubbish. It is a slow killer.  Organic food is our insurance – if you eat well you won’t need doctors and hospitals.” Apparently, 6.5 million people in South Africa suffer from high blood pressure and over 6 million with diabetes.  Both these diseases are directly related to the food we eat. “In the old days, poor people ate organic food, now it is the rich who eat this way.”

go slo

Tim tells us that there are six types of farming and explains each one:

Traditional

That’s what our grandfathers did, back in the day.  It is ok, but with the increased population and lack of space, it doesn’t work so well anymore.

Sustainable

This is permaculture – based on the principles of Land Care, People Care and Profit Share.  This method sees a tree as a source of food, firewood, shelter, fencing and habitat for other creatures. This method works with Nature to design systems that work for humans.

Biodynamic

Rudolph Steiner’s method includes the spiritual world and the sun, moon and stars. For example, the movement of certain butterflies would signal the time to plant.  Nettles are an ingredient used often in Biodynamic preparations – they bring vitality and add a lot of iron to compost.  A mixture of cow dung and nettles is commonly used to boost growth.

IP Agriculture

Integrated Production uses practices from many types of agriculture – sometimes organic, sometimes using chemicals to deal with infestations of ‘pests’. Tim refers to those who follow this method as “fence-sitters”.

Conventional, Industrial Farming

This method is big on monoculture and is highly mechanised.    “These farmers would have just one wife, called Beans”, laughed Tim.  This type of agriculture began in the 1960’s when manufacturers found themselves with excess stock of nitrogen (previously used to manufacture bombs in the World Wars).  Nowadays, chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto control our food system through their sales of herbicide, pesticide and seeds.

Agroecology

This is organic farming, and according to Tim, the Mother of all Farming.  Here we look at the bigger picture, we create an entire ecosystem from which to harvest food, including other species as part of this system, in a fair and equal distribution of resources.  Lindiwe Phikwane, who dug up the useless lawn in her garden to plant food, adds “Farmers must not be greedy and invade the natural environment.  Make sure there is enough for everyone to share, plant some potatoes outside of the fence for the bush pigs. What can they do if you have taken their space?”

Tim convinces us that the best way to produce food is to work with Nature, to increase biodiversity and adapt to local conditions. Man’s influence must be positive as our health is a direct reflection of our environment. For example, a forest looks after itself, without any interference from man – so look at creating a micro-climate, with everything working in harmony to create balance.

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We have all made a new friend at the workshop, which pleases Tim no end. “Always sit next to strangers to learn something new, share ideas and imagination,” he advises.

In the middle of this information-packed day, we stopped for an all-local lunch under the peach trees. Today’s meal included ujece made by Lindiwe from Champagne Valley stone-ground flour, with a colourful coleslaw with pecan nuts, lettuce, new season potatoes and green beans topped with popped amaranth, nettle pesto, pickles and chutneys, a maas dressing, washed down with elderflower cordial. All ingredients were produced within 20kms of the garden.

Mzwandile Mokoena commented “Today was an amazing day, to be honest. I never looked at slow food that way, there are so many ways to end poverty and farming is the most underrated way (by some people). Today I learnt so much about farming I think the best way is to start small. Do not expect to have a big business in a short period of time. Starting small and local. The slow food process is slow but worth the time. Tim is such an inspiring person with good knowledge.”

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On Day Two of the workshop, Tim spoke about farming as a business, imploring everyone to think of themselves as business people, no matter how small their plot.  “It is great to be sharing the fruit of your labours with the less fortunate, but how long can you do this?  You are a shareholder in the food chain. You also need to make money to educate your kids.” Do not underestimate your value.

Tim believes that Co-Ops are the most terrible idea to befall our people. “Funding is a swear word!” he exclaims.  Only 10% of Co-Ops survive and function fully.  People are seldom trained on how to run a Co-Op successfully, which leads to a high failure rate. Often people choose their friends to be part of it (regardless of their skills), copy and paste a constitution, rush to open a bank account and then think that their official Co-Op Certificate it is a ticket to funding. A far better way to set up a venture would be to select people who have a similar vision, who each bring something different to the table. One with land, another contributes a tractor, one has recently acquired knowledge and skills to offer, the next plenty of seeds and finally someone who has some money to contribute. This group creates a very specific proposal and naturally, they will get the funding they require.

It is extremely important to have a written plan for your aims and goals. Record what is planted where on what date and how much you harvest in a simple notebook.  “Time is money, money is honey, honey is sweet.” he quips.

“Be unique, find unusual things to plant – everyone grows chard and cabbage – grow something different.”  While making sure you don’t give everything away, Tim advises that you take into consideration the ability of one’s community to buy your crops and sell at a reasonable price. “Don’t price your cabbages at R15 just because the big shops sell for that.  Even if you sell for R8, you will make a profit – but remember your records!”

These are the things to take into consideration when deciding to grow food for sale:

  • Measure your land (eg 10m x 10m) and decide what you will grow (eg beetroot).
  • Prepare the land and make a note of the date that you do this.
  • Buy seeds and seedlings – note the price.
  • When you transplant them into the soil – note the date.
  • Monitor daily. Regular attention will help eliminate pests, which take advantage of plants when they are stressed.
  • Water often. We don’t drink water only once a week, so why should your plant suffer? They are like humans, have a schedule and be consistent.
  • Note when you harvest.
  • In determining the price, consider all the costs including seeds, water, your labour, organic sprays, packaging, transport.
  • Organic crops should fetch a premium – “have you priced cancer lately?” – but be fair.
  • Reinvest your profit – save some and use some to get going on your next crop.
  • Your dividend is probably only about 10% – so be cautious when giving crops away, or you will quickly have made no profit at all.

Tim shared a very vivid example:  On one hectare you can plant 45 000 head of cabbage, which takes 90 days to grow.  Even if 5000 die, you will have 40 000 left.  If you sell them at R5 each, that is R200 000.00.  Your production costs are probably not more than R50 000, so there is a profit of R150 000.00. “This is good profit, so there is no need to charge a higher price.  Mabadle abantu – let people eat – is my philosophy.”

Tim recommends planting high-value crops like cucumbers, peppers, chillies, tomatoes and brinjal rather than endless spinach.   Do some market research.  If there is a glut of one type of vegetable when you send to the market – you will get absolutely nothing for it and your efforts will be wasted. Being able to sell directly in your community and neighbourhood is a great idea.

You are the brand.   If you sell to the shops, make sure that not only the shop label is displayed – your name should be there too.

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Tim believes we should aim for food sovereignty, not just food security.  Not only do we have the right to good food, we need the freedom to choose the food we want and decide how it is produced.  In this way, we create diversity and build resilience.

Passionate about creating young farmers, Tim works with ECD centres at schools to teach little children how to grow food and herbs organically. “If they understand the food system and value good quality food, this sharpens their appetite for choosing agriculture as a career.” To make sure that his programme is successful, Tim also trains the teacher and parents and keeps in close contact with the children. Watch Tim in action. 

Our all-local lunch today included Ntombenhle’s famous vetkoek, filled with a stew of sugar beans (grown in Impendle) and sweet potatoes (grown in Camperdown), lettuce from Mlu Khanyile’s garden up the road, beetroot salad, sou sou chutney and mint cordial.

Lunga Dlungwana commented “Tim’s story is very inspiring – from what led him to start doing what he does, to how he’s engaged with the community. His passion and love for the people and his belief that everyone must be taken care of, including the wild animals, is one that resonated with me the most. I could easily sit and listen to him talk for many hours. Such a great communicator.”

On day three, we listened intently and made notes as Tim shared his Top Tips to get the best out of our crops.

“What happens when you don’t charge your phone?” he asked, “the same goes for soil – it needs recharging.” He reminds us that we are eating nutrients, that plants suck the nutrients from the soil, so it is vital to keep building soil.  Manure is great to do this and there certainly was plenty available around us in Mpophomeni.  Do not leave manure uncovered as it loses nutrients (particularly nitrogen) fast in sunlight. Tim recommended we add manure to our beds at sunset to avoid this happening.

Make your beds 1m wide, so that you can reach to the middle from each side. Do not ever walk on your beds as this compresses the soil.

Do not plant seeds too deeply. Many seeds, like spinach and beetroot, do well when first soaked overnight in water.

Don’t sow plants the same family next to one another (eg tomatoes, brinjals) as they attract the same pests. Rather plant basil with tomatoes – they are great companions.

Some plants can be sown directly into beds – beans, squash, mealies, carrots and potatoes. Tomatoes, chillies and cabbage should be grown in nursery beds before being transplanted.

Transplanting is best done in the evening.  Wet the area you will be working in. Keep seedlings in a bucket of water to prevent the roots from drying out.  Ensure the hole for the seedling is as long as the root – do not bend the roots. Press down and water well.

Crop rotation is important – plant high feeders (leaf crops), then legumes (nitrogen fixers) then low feeders (rood crops). This helps ensure healthy plants and reduces pest-attracting stress.

Do not plant crops in tyres.  The heavy metals and chemicals leach into the soil and are absorbed by roots, poisoning your food.

Mulch: a very important element in your garden that suppresses weeds, controls evaporation, decomposes to include more organic material in your soil, add nutrients, improves fertility and soil texture and prevents fruits like tomatoes or strawberries from touching the soil and rotting.

Irrigate:  a 2l plastic bottle, with a hole in it, filled with water and placed next to your plant, will drip-feed water directly to the roots.

Potatoes:  lay khakibos branches in the trenches.  Ferment khakibos in water to make a nutrient-rich plant food to spray on crops.

Cucumbers: trim the tendrils when they have grown longer than 1m from the plant roots. This encourages the plant to produce more shoots. Prune the leaves to encourage better quality fruit.

Pumpkins: If you want to win the local Pumpkin Competition with an ENORMOUS pumpkin, this is the secret: Dig 1m x 1m x 1m deep pits and fill with all your organic waste – cuttings, kitchen waste, grass clippings, manure.  Plant one seed. Trim the vines when they reach 1m from the root to encourage more energy to go into your prize-winning pumpkin!

Tomatoes:  remove the first flowers to allow the plant to develop stronger stems before fruiting. Same goes for brinjals and peppers.

Fruit Trees: plant herbs under them like marjoram or comfrey. Remember to water them – at least 20l weekly, mixed with wood ash.  Add manure around the base of the tree every 3 months.

Weed tea: ferment pioneer weeds (especially khakibos and nettles) for two weeks – add chilli, garlic and some grape vinegar make it a pest deterrent too – dilute and spray on your crops and fruit trees.

Rabbit and goat manure is an excellent food for vegetable crops.

Moles: deter them by planting tulbaghia and lemongrass around your veggies. Make a simple tool from a plastic bottle with flaps cut into it, stuck on top of a stick and inserted into the mole hole. As the wind blows, spinning the bottle, the vibrations deter the moles.

Cutworms: add Epsom salts to your beds as cutworms indicate a lack of magnesium in the soil.

Aphids: spray with a weak mixture of sunlight soap. Plant nasturtiums to attract them away from your crops.

Lizards and skinks are important for keeping pests under control.

Guinea fowl and geese are great at keeping rats at bay and provide great security – no need to high fences and alarms.

Red wrigglers: earthworms turn waste into the soil from free.  They can be a ‘cash crop’ too – 1kg of worms sells for R1000.

Bees:  include hives in your garden to pollinate the plants and harvest real honey.  Bee stings are the best medicine for arthritis.

Save seeds:  use wood ash and eucalyptus leaves to prevent insects destroying your precious seeds. Store in glass in a cool dark place.

A few years ago, Tim met a woman from Soweto who had been saving her own seeds for 48 years. “These are diamonds!” he told her and after trading seeds with her, set up a Seed Bank.  “We gave away 300 packets of seeds to get people started, asking that they return double the amount of seed to the bank when they harvested. The system is built on trust.” Seed saving is the key to building food sovereignty.

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Tim sells fresh veggies directly from his garden and encourages his customers to come and pick their own fruit and veg.  “This is the moment when their relationship with food improves. Now they know who grew it, how it was produced and where it came from.  This is so important as mostly we are disconnected from our food.”

Tim reminds us that we are role models in our communities. “Encourage youngsters to spend time in the garden with you – feeding the chickens, adding potato peels to the worm bin, watering the seedlings and picking peaches.  They will learn patience, fall in love with this way of life and strengthen our communities and food systems.”

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Over lunch, Luke Foster asked Tim what his most useful tool is – after his hands. “My head,” he replied, “you can achieve anything with your head and your hands.”

Today we feasted on sorghum salad with apple and celery, summer slice made with Mlu’s potatoes, courgette and spring onions, just pulled carrots (also grown by Mlu), pickled spekboom, pumpkin stem salad, Lindiwe’s artisan bread and nettle cordial.

At the end of the day, we shared seeds to grow and resolved to continue to build our communities through good, clean food.

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Lihle Mavuso felt inspired and motivated by the course. “This is such good information, especially because I am just starting my farming journey.”

Bongiwe Mpolo from Mafakathini was so pleased she made the decision to come to this workshop. “It was a good opportunity. I love gardening, it helps me relax and takes my stress away. Now I have more knowledge.”

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Tim thoroughly enjoyed meeting enthusiastic gardeners from Mpophomeni and Mafakathini.  He also visited the mushroom growing project and food garden at the IBM church and Ntombenhle Mtambo’s Permaculture garden, spent time with our local Seed Man, Deon Bean, attended the Reko Howick market where he connected joyfully with other farmers and finally, inspired the Midlanders who had gathered to establish a new Slow Food Community.  What a week!

“I am falling in love with KZN” he declared before heading home to Orange Farm, “there is such good energy here – and amazing food.”

This workshop was sponsored by sales of Mnandi – a taste of Mpophomeni. See all the photos here.

Need some agroecology inspiration or farming advice in your community? Tim Abaa comes highly recommended.  Contact him on 082 639 6621 or timnectarbees@gmail.com.

Real Cheese

After learning how to make real bread a couple of months ago (thank you Carol Addis, read about it here), the obvious next step in our Slow Food journey was cheese.

Gilly Robartes of Wana Farm in Dargle invited us to spend the morning with her.  First, we learnt how to separate the milk.  We tipped 6 litres of raw milk still warm from the morning’s milking into the top and kept the handle turning at a swift 14 cycles every 10 seconds!

It is important to use warm milk – the natural temperature is 38.5 degrees.  As the cream is heavier than milk, the centrifugal force separates it from the rest (now skim milk).  This is not essential, as one could simply use whole milk to make cheese and yoghurt, but Gilly’s customers prefer her method.  It goes without saying that the better the quality of the milk, the better the result.

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Milk is then pasteurised in a double boiler by heating it to 85C.  Then the heat is switched off and the pot left for 10 minutes.  After that, the milk must be cooled as fast as possible to 22C.  We put it into a basin of cold water and stirred continuously.

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Gilly’s instructions continue:  Stir the frozen culture (Gilly uses CHN22) into the milk. Dissolve 1/8th tsp rennet powder in about 1 dessert spoon of water and add that.  Put a lid on the pot and place it in a cooler bag, or Wonderbag, so it keeps its temperature, for at least 16 hours.

Sterilize a muslin bag, (like a pillow-case), by boiling it in water for about 6 minutes. Take the pot out of the Wonderbag and pour the cheese, which should have coagulated,  into the muslin bag.  Tie the top with a piece of string. Put this on a rack over a basin to drain off most of the whey (umlaza).  Leave to drain overnight, in a cool place, preferably a fridge.

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Pour the curds (izaqheqhe)  into a basin/bowl.  Add salt to taste – usually around 2 – 3 teaspoons.  Beat with a stick blender or a wooden spoon until smooth.

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If you want to add flavour, mix it in at this stage.  If adding fresh herbs, microwave them for a few seconds first to kill the enzymes that could cause the cheese to go off.  It takes 48 hours to make cottage cheese.

We were delighted to sample the fresh cheese with homemade bread at tea time.

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We chatted about the economics of cheese making. Gilly reminded us to take into consideration our time, electricity, rent and the transport to deliver the cheese, as well as the cost of ingredients and containers when we price our product.  To make maas, Gilly uses the same culture as for cottage cheese. Wana Farm maas is well known and much loved across the Midlands.

Then we turned out hands to making yoghurt – a similar process to cottage cheese.

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Next, we all went out into the farmyard to thank the cows who had provided the delicious milk.  We met Tessa and Tsitwe, May-Star, Tsitsa and Naledi.

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We were all dreaming about warm milk straight from the udder – or served with soft pap – igxaka.   We shared stories of traditional methods like using a calabash to curdle milk into maas and fond memories of grandmother’s homemade ice cream…

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We met the new babies as well – who share the milk with us humans.  They were all so cute and friendly.  Gilly told us that because Jersey milk is so rich, the calves often get upset tummies from drinking it. “They are so greedy!  Sometimes I have to dilute the full cream milk with water if they get the squits.”

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We explored the veggie garden and Nhlaka Nzimande got some tips on growing organic garlic. Gilly has a problem with moles sharing her veggies, Spha Mabaso shared a solution “plant Tulbaghia (iswele lezinyoka) all around the edge of your garden and they will keep away.”

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Gilly gave us all some fresh cheese and yoghurt to take home.  Lihle Mavuso was very excited to try her hand at cheese making. “I liked that the process is simple and I can get better by practising and just using what I have.  I imagined a big factory only to find that Gilly works in the small part of the kitchen.  I can make money and save money from not buying at the supermarket.”

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Spha was thinking of enjoying his gift of yoghurt with homegrown guavas.  “It was eye-opening and surprisingly therapeutic,” said Ntobeh Mkhize.

“What a happy day of learning,” commented Londi Makhaye afterwards, “My son made fresh roti for supper which we ate with the cheese.”

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Our Slow Food Community

Since it’s inception in 2012,  Mpophomeni Conservation Group has supported the ideals of the international Slow Food movement.

We have celebrated Terra Madre Days, swopped seeds, hosted gardening workshops, visited permaculture gardens, held harvest produce competitions, participated in Siyabuyisela ulwazi hosted by Biowatch and helped people in the community to start gardens of their own. Many of these events are recorded in our blog.  You may particularly enjoy reading Terra Madre Day 2013Terra Madre Day 2015 ,  Pickle Pot Pea Pyramids  Pumpkin Time in Pops, Enaleni Open Day

In 2016, long time Slow Food member Ntombenhle Mtambo attended the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy.  A foodie adventure!

In November of 2018, we hosted a Seed Sharing Day

We were delighted to have Delwyn Pillay and friends of Slow Food Durban and Thokozani Kubeka all the way from Van Reenen, join our community.

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It was a great morning of sharing seeds, meeting fellow gardeners and farmers, swapping food knowledge and general merriment. Passionate people all keen to support food security, seed resilience and climate-friendly agricultural practices gathered in Ntombenhle’s Permaculture Garden.crowd

There were dozens of types of bean seeds, plenty of pumpkins, lots of heritage maize, sorghum, millet, cucumbers, zinnias, nasturtium, marigold, African daisy, chillies, fennel, sunflower, carrots, parsnips and more. Thousands of seeds spreading across the province to grow delicious resilience.

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Everyone got to taste Pha Mabaso’s delicious iced tea made with Athrixia phylicoides and Ntombenhle Mtambo’s famous vetkoek with fresh garden salad while they explored the garden and made new friends.  Bridget Rindgdahl commented, “Splendid day with splendid peeps, sharing and saving seeds in splendid Mpophomeni!”  Veteran seed saver Eidin Griffin added “What a marvellous morning meeting of Seed Warriors! Thank you to everyone who came, brought seed, shared information, cooked and turned up from as far afield as Durban and Van Reenen’s Pass. You are all lovely.  Happy growing to the hundreds if not thousands of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds shared today. Viva Seed Freedom Viva!”

This year, in May, Ntombenhle Mtambo, Spa Mabaso, Penz Malinga, Lindiwe Phikwane, Nhlaka Nzimande gathered in Ntombenhle’s garden to officially create Mpophomeni Slow Food.

slow food picnic

Over a picnic of local food, we discussed what Slow Food meant. Ntombenhle “it is about community, love and sharing, seeing the value in other people’s food cultures and sharing stories about food and culture. Food is the source of everything.”

Spha Mabaso agreed, adding  “Conversations about food and community can create a healthy social structure through nutrition. The one thing people are willing to do together – that is to eat, drink and laugh.”

Passionate farmer Nhlakanipho Nzimande expressed his disappointment that those with more money think it is better to shop at the supermarket than support local food “They want to be seen pushing the trolley. These people may be rich, but they are not wealthy. Wealth comes from land, food security and community.  We can learn a lot from elders who are growing. What we call butternut, they have many different names for – they don’t even know ‘butternut’.”

r slow food community MPOPHOMENI

Lindiwe Phikwane related her own experience of suddenly finding herself unemployed, starting a garden in her small yard. “Eating well does not have to be expensive. With a garden you can be healthy and rich. There is much unemployment –  we will not be getting jobs, we need to look after ourselves.”

Local activist Penz Malinga, who has been a member of Slow Food for many years,  was adamant “Freely available, flavourful food should be for everyone without causing harm to birds, bees or trees.  SF allows us to participate in ensuring that food diversity and all cultures and regions are sustained for generations to come.”

slow food picnic jars

Together, we decided on our objective:

To support small scale organic farming in the greater Mpophomeni area, to improve food security, to prevent the loss of traditional food culture and to inspire residents to live healthier lives.

Committing to:

  • Promote organic, regenerative cultivation
  • Work together in the African tradition of ilima
  • Organise one seed sharing event each year
  • Celebrate Terra Madre Day in our community
  • Develop unique products using indigenous or invasive plants
  • Support small producers to access local markets

We also decided to work towards having one or more products in the Ark of Taste.  We will promote traditional foods, by teaching others how to prepare these foods and promote the use of wild greens as a nutrient-dense, free food source and assist others to identify these plants.

Ive got the power SLow Food

The local Reko Ring in Howick was a good place to start selling the produce of small scale farmers in the Mpophomeni and Mashingeni area.  Reko is a Finnish term meaning fair consumption – which fits perfectly with Mpophomeni SF objectives.  The main aims of REKO are:

  • Local, ethical and organic production
  • Direct relationship between producer and consumer
  • Transparent prices, orders and comments
  • You may ONLY sell what you yourself have produced or direct by-products of your raw materials – no reselling.
  • The producer must make production methods transparent and ingredients clear to the customer.
  • Collection is at a set time and place, for a set duration.
  • Reduced packaging, and as far as possible no plastic.

Spha sold out of his new-season sugar beans on his first visit.  Lindiwe Phikwane has become a regular trader selling the oyster mushrooms and cabbages produced by her church and spring onions and lettuce from her own garden.  “Reko is great. It helps us, small producers, to earn some money. The best part is we only harvest what has been ordered, so there is no wastage.”

Lindiwe with lettuce at REKO

As bread is such a staple of most township diets, we decided to learn how to make our own healthier version.

We spent a day with Carol Addis in Lion’s River learning all about artisan bread.  Carol was a patient teacher, who explained everything carefully. More than anything, learning how to feel the dough to ensure the correct level of moisture was emphasised. Everyone loved getting their hands into the soft mixture – stretching and folding gently – definitely, no strenuous kneading required. Spha particularly enjoyed the technical aspects, learning practically hands-on rather than from a recipe. Sphindile had never done anything like this before. “This was so interesting, I will definitely be baking my own bread now,” she said.

r mpoppies bread

Carol talked about why commercial bread is bad for us and shared her passion for healthy, local, seasonal food. For lunch, we enjoyed a veggie curry with some of our freshly baked loaves. Penz said she was always a bit afraid of bread before, but after learning about the processes that make bread digestible and nutritious she would be enjoying real bread more often. Lindiwe was delighted with all the info she received today and was already making plans to get her hands on some good local flour and start baking. She was surprised to work out that this good bread doesn’t even cost more to than cheap bread is to buy. Ntombenhle agreed with Carol that food made with love tasted the best.

r making bread

In July, Mpophomeni Slow Food spokesperson, Spha Mabaso headed to Johannesburg to connect with Slow Foodies there and learn more about the movement.  This is his account of the adventure.

With Caroline McCann (the Slow Food International Councillor for South Africa) and Dr Naude Malan of iZindaba Zigudla, I visited Cheese Gourmet in Linden run by Brian Dick. Brian Dick has for many years been the leader of Slow Food in Gauteng. I was amazed by the great variety of cheese produced in South Africa.

Next, we went to Orange Farm to meet Slow Food member Tim Abaa who is running a great organic farming community project.  We explored his place and I learnt a lot about making the best use of small township spaces.

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For lunch we headed to Eziko Resturant in Mid-Rand. Eziko means ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace where one cooks’. Here we ate sheep’s head with vegetables and steamed bread. I learnt that traditional food can be served to tourists if it is well presented.  As I am keen to open a restaurant in Mpophomeni I was pleased to chat with chef Andile Somdaka – he invited me to visit again for some training.

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On Sunday morning we visited Victoria Yards – a complex of small art, food and design businesses created in a reclaimed industrial space. It was a great place to visit. At the regular Inner City Farmers Market,  I met a lady that was processing her vegetables and fruits to make smoothies to sell. This was great to see because I have a similar idea for Mpophomeni.

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What a wonderful trip – I got to meet a lot of people who believe in Slow Food and expanded my network within the food and gardening sector.  Caroline McCann was thrilled to meet Spha. “It was wonderful to have spent time with you. I am incredibly moved by your passion and knowledge. Thank you for sharing with us and know we are your ‘home away from home’ fans.  I reiterate that not only because I am the International Councillor but because I believe in you, I want to hear about the stuff you do.”

ENG_SF_community

Brian Dick, and his wife Jo, were down in KZN this past week so popped in to visit the Mpophomeni Slow Food Community on Sunday 20 July and share some of his knowledge on the organisation.

We began by showing our guests around Emphare Organics small scale farm in the heart of the township on Mtholampilo Street.  Spha introduced his cows who provide the manure to make the garden flourish.  Jo was very interested to taste mustard greens for the first time.

mustard spinach

After the tour we shared lunch prepared by the Slow Food community of Mpophomeni – rainbow salad, ijece, artisan bread, pumpkin soup. A few local artists and community members joined us for lunch and we had a great discussion about what slow food is and what it is trying to archive for communities.

After lunch we visited Ntombenhle’s garden as Brian and Jo had heard so much about it.  “What a lovely day,” said Brianafterwards, “I was so impressed by the energy and enthusiasm.  I am certain that Slow Food will grow in the area.”

ntombenhle's garden

What’s next?   During August, we will be attending the Biowatch Agro-Ecology course in Durban.  In early September we will be learning to make cheese on Wana Farm.   Watch the Slow Foodies of Mpophomeni be the change they want to see in the world!

Are you interested in joining our Slow Food Community?  Contact any of the founding members, or email Spha Mabaso: sphamabaso@gmail.com

Slow Food activities are funded by sales of Mnandi – a taste of Mpophomeni. 

r food for change

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Entrepreneurs

Budding entrepreneurs from Mpophomeni Township recently attended a digital entrepreneurship workshop which aimed to empower them with solutions to make their businesses more visible online.

Thembalethu Zakwe compiled this article.

Digital expert Anthea ‘Bun’ Forder who is the owner of AppCity gave an insightful presentation on the factors that currently influence digital marketing. These include an exponential increase in pollution,  change in the skills that are in high demand in the workplace, international trade and advancements in technology.  According to Anthea, these things are opportunities and it has never been easier in the history of mankind to be a successful entrepreneur.

a Bun

Video has steadily become the most popular form of media on the internet, making up 86% of content that is consumed online. Products and services have been found to have more than 70% chance of being sold if they are advertised using videos.

While most people have not warmed up to the idea of creating video content, Anthea quickly showed the group in attendance that the task isn’t as daunting as one would imagine.

a group

Through using the free Wi-Fi that is available at Mpophomeni Library (thanks to MCG) the group learned to create concise, high-quality videos using two highly recommended apps, Quik and Splice. Both apps are available for free download on both Android and IOS devices.

Facebook is still the most used social media platform amongst South Africans between the ages of 18-65 years old making it a popular choice for businesses that want to reach their target market. However, Anthea introduced the group to a relatively unknown function on Facebook, www.business.facebook.com

The function offers various effective tools that assist business owners of any size to reach their ideal customer. The importance of understanding how the Facebook algorithm works was re-emphasized.

a hand

Other recommended apps for those that want to perfect their writing skills include upwork.com; wordnik.com, grammarly.com.  Unsplash offers a great collection of suitable, licensed images that content creators may use. Canva is an easy to use graphic design tool. Anthea demonstrated how to use Canva, by quickly creating a cover image for Mlungisi Ndlovu’s Facebook page advertising his house painting business.

Sabelo Xaba who runs Mpophomeni Horseback Tours was delighted to have attended the informative workshop. “It has given me lots of ideas about how I can improve my marketing. It was really great.”

a confusing

Ndumiso Dladla who was one of the attendees was inspired to forge ahead with starting a small scale retail business. “I am so grateful for this workshop. I now know the most effective ways to sell my products using social media. I especially look forward to creating videos that will show what I specialize in,” he said.

Animal lover and activist Penz Malinga learned new ways to popularize the walks she organizes in her community. “What an occasion indeed. I am enjoying trying all the wonderful apps shared and am working on an advertisement for my monthly Mpop Hills Walk” she said.

Graphic designer and writer Thembelani Mkhize who is in the process of selling some of his work overseas is excited to apply what he learned to his business. “This has been a great workshop indeed. I was excited to not only learn but to share some ideas and platforms that also work for me” he said. Artist Musi Ndlela was very pleased with the new information which will help him increase sales of his work.

a anthea and group

For more quick tips and tricks about digital entrepreneurship be sure to follow Anthea Forder on Instagram @bun.appcity or Facebook or Youtube.  To demonstrate how easy it is to make a quick video, she created this:

 

This workshop was sponsored by sales of Mnandi – a taste of Mpophomeni. 

 

 

 

A Horseback Riding Experience

In Mpophomeni, horses are notorious and have become a synonym with the 20 something gangs and their tattoo faced free riding robbers. So naturally when people see horses they run well away, shutting their doors behind them. This is now starting to change because of Sabelo Xaba.

It has become prevalent for great ideas to be conceived over Sunday Chillas beers at a bar. “We were just chilling and chatting over drinks one day and I said to my friend Thobelani Dlamini “You have all these beautiful horses here, why don’t we take people for a ride on them?”  That is the day Mpophomeni Horseback Tours was born.

Horse Parking lot.

With the assistant of horseman Vuyani Zondi, who is a fountain of knowledge about horses, takes care of them and calms them down when they are skittish. Their first debut was at the Mpophomeni farmers market where short rides were on offer to the young and old and they were also featured at the Howick 10km Marathon.

I (Penz Malinga) was recently sponsored by Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni to go on my very first horseback experience. Arum Bydawell and her gorgeous mom Angie from Hilton came to ride along as well. Arum and Angie had previous experience with horses, I had none except for occasionally bumping into them grazing in the foothills while walking my dogs.

I was just beyond excited, a smile was glued permanently on my face from the moment I climbed on and held on to the reigns.

Penz Malingas selfie with old Mlanduli

Our most experienced rider was 8 year old Lwandle who started riding when he was 3 years old so he was well seasoned by now.

8 year old Lwandle.

Sabelo and Vuyani helped us on and explained how we were to maneuver the horses, then we were A for away. We rode through the old waste water treatment works, which is very smelly but has plenty of biodiversity and birdwatching potential. We spotted the resident blacksmith plovers, some black ducks eduda edamini , a romantic pair of Egyptian geese and a lone Yellow billed kite riding the current. We also bumped into Mr Mtshalis horses grazing and Vuyani went to whisper to them to keep away from us.

Vuyani rounding up Baba Mtshalis horses.

As we gently crossed the Umhlangeni and Umthinzima tributaries of the Umngeni river, we were leaving the township behind climbing higher through the new housing development on the ancient road alongside hundreds of common soap aloes still in flower.

We realised that none of us had bought carrots with us when we stopped for a photo opportunity at the reservoir overlooking the entire township. Luckily Sabelo had some stale bread that we enjoyed feeding our horses.Sabelo pointed out some of the pioneering houses that were built in the 1960s.

Riding across the ridge was challenging okay maybe a little bit scary, but we knew that we could put our faith in our horses to find their own way. We then made our way back, through eMadala on Mtholampilo road, keeping to people’s outer lawns because not all our horses had shoes on all the way back to an optional delicious lunch at Midmar View Restaurant.

Arum and Penz all smiles after a delightful ride.

This is accessible to everyone young and old to be enjoyed by beginners and jockeys alike.
To book contact Sabelo Xaba on cellphone number-  078 492 7515 and do follow Mpophomeni Horseback Tours on Facebook.

Spha Mabaso

The Ndlovu family were one of the original families to settle in Mpophomeni in the 1960’s.

Originally from Endiza, Curry’s Post, they were relocated to kwaZenzele, and then to Mpophomeni when Midmar was being built.  Despite their change in circumstances and the fact they had lost all their livestock, they kept farming and still today make use of a large plot to grow vegetables for themselves and fodder for their cattle.

cattle eating turnip

Spha Mabaso, who lives with his grandfather Baba Ndlovu (uMkhulu) in Mtholampilo Street is proud of the fact that his family were pioneer settlers in the area and is determined to continue the farming tradition.  Beside their kraal they have built an area for the whole community to bring their cattle for assistance with vaccinations and dipping. Sharing their knowledge and helping their neighbours is important for the Ndlovu and Mabaso families.

livestock maintenance

“We use the old methods, no artificial fertilizers or pesticides, so our products are all organic, they always have been. I am going to build a new empire.”

spha in veggie garden

Ever since he was a little boy, Spha has loved being in the garden. He followed his grandmother around as she sowed seed and harvested imifino, learning so much from her in the process.  uMkhulu Ndlovu spent much of his working life employed by Sarmcol and is an accomplished welder. He manufactured a playground of swings for his grandchildren. The workmanship is so good that some are still in the back yard – although Spha is getting a bit big to play on them!

Mkhulu and Spha Swing

Their homestead is a creative mish mash of metal work.   “A farmer can make anything,” uMkhulu beams, proudly showing off a watering can and a wheel barrow he made himself. There are fences made with discarded bed springs, a chicken house constructed high above the ground to keep predators out, and the most interesting gate in the entire street.

Ever creative and enthusiastic Spha is looking at ways of adding value to their produce. The old guava trees planted by his grandmother still produce delicious fruit.  While eating them fresh from the tree is first prize, the surplus is turned into fermented fruit juice and next season, there will be bottled and dried guavas in his product list too.

guavas

Spha is a regular at the Mpophomeni Farmers Market. His freshly picked turnip greens, amangoza, always sell out and he can’t keep up with the demand for his speckled sugar beans.

A market shoppers

Recently he introduced a new product – iced tea.  Made using leaves of the indigenous Athrixia phylicoides, which his grandfather calls itheye lentaba.  At first, he collected leaves from wild plants in the hills, but to ensure sustainability he has now planted a hedge of Athrixia aka Bushman’s Tea in his garden.  Twigs from this shrub are traditionally used to make hard brooms too.

athrixia phylicoides

What do his customers think of the tea?  “They love it!” he grins, “with a squeeze of lemon and a bit of mint, it is really refreshing.”

Spha iced tea

The Market happens just twice a month, so Spha is planning to set up a farmstall beside his garden and invite other small farmers to sell their produce there every day.  It is Mtholamphilo Street after all – so this is just where one would expect to find ways to improve one’s health!   At the moment, the ground is covered in rubbish as people dump here, but Spha is undaunted.  He will clean it up, build a stall using recycled timber off-cuts, plant a water wise garden and install his old swing for the neighbourhood children to play on.

Spha on stall site

Next, he plans to learn to make yoghurt and cheese from any excess milk in summer – first making sure that the calves get their fair share, of course.  “Local, organic produce is the way to go,”says Spha emphatically, “we need to support one another, make the most of what we have and work hard to improve food security.”

cow at fence

There are seeds drying on the window sill for next season, a nest filled with eggs about to hatch, and are a couple of pumpkins left from the Autumn harvest. The peach trees are bursting with blossoms, the sugar cane is ready for summer, the potatoes have been planted and the onions are sprouting.  This corner of the township is set to flourish. Without doubt, this is a space to watch.

Contact Spha at Emphare Organics 071 454 0323 sphamabaso@gmail.com

Mkhulu Spha watering can

 

 

Siyabonga

When Siyabonga Majola was growing up in Mpophomeni he never imagined he’d be a movie star. 

In Grade 10, with a few friends, he put on a sketch of ‘township comedy’ to entertain school mates. The feedback was positive, so they did another and soon Siya had decided that he wanted to pursue acting as a career.  With Mpophomeni Youth Productions and Izwi, his passion for acting grew and he decided to devote himself to making plays and becoming the best performer that he could.   Fellow performer, Lindokuhle Mshengu remembers he was full of jokes, but absolutely serious about his work. “You could see that acting was a real passion, acting gave him life. He never missed rehearsals and became a different person on stage, excelling in every role he was given.  I am sure that if we were in a place where there were vast opportunities, he would have appeared on our home screens by now.”

Facilitator, Eidin Griffin recalls him playing Daddy Dinosaur in Tyrannasaurus Drip  – a play about a vegetarian dinosaur born into a T-Rex family who finally finds his real tribe.  “Siya is a great actor, but what I really love about him is that he is so thoughtful and amazing with children. He is gentle and kind – a great mentor.”

Siyabonga Majola with Yiwa Productions

Recently, Siya has been involved with the Twist Theatre Development project where he has learnt more about script writing, acting and directing.  “I like being able to bring history and social issues to life through a play,” he says, “you get to engage with many different people and influence their emotions.”

In 2016 Siya directed ‘True Story’ a play based on the life of six year old Nokulunga Gumede, who was killed during the turbulent times in Mpophomeni during the 1980’s.    Gael Taylor, facilitator of Lisakanya – a programme for school leavers that Siya participated in – was impressed at his commitment to the project. “Siyabonga put his all into this project. He worked with no budget but brought the story to life. You could see his passion for the people of the community and his ability to transfer this piece of history in a really engaging way. His dream has always been to be in theatre or film and I think really to produce. He loves to laugh and yet took his role as mentor seriously.”

r history of Nokulunga Gumede Memorial on Youth Day

Siyabonga is very grateful for the leadership, networking and business skills he gained during his time with the Lisakhanya project. “If it wasn’t for them I doubt that I would have heard about Josh’s film. They forwarded me the article and helped me with emailing a letter to him. Lisakhanya is designed for school leavers who are willing to make a better life for themselves and their communities. I didn’t hesitate when I heard about the project and what I learnt from Gael and Jo Ngwenya is amazing – personal development, working in teams and on community projects.  These all boosted my confidence and communication skills – elements that you need as an actor.”

More recently in 2017, Siyabonga wrote and directed ‘The Protector’ a play that participated at Winston Churchill District Art Festival. “Stage acting is very different from film, because you engage with the audience and need to go deep into the character and use your body effectively to be believable. There is no editing. This improves your creativity.” Currently, Siya is working on a play called ‘Faulty Foundations’ about June 16th.

r nkulu and siya

On 1 August the Locarno Film Festival opens in Switzerland. 

Siya will be there on the red carpet to watch the World Premiere of the movie he stars in – Siyabonga We are Thankful.  Locarno is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world and has been a home for some of the film industries most significant faces, in recent times screening the films of Steven Spielberg, Ken Loach, JJ Abrams and South Africa’s very own Oliver Hermanus.  Siyabonga (the movie) is in the running for 5 awards, including the for Golden Leopard for Best Film.

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This extraordinary turn of events is entirely due to Siya’s determination and dedication.    When he read in the local newspaper, The Meander Chronicle, that a young filmmaker, Joshua Magor, was planning to make a movie in the midlands,  he contacted him and they hit it off immediately.  Siya made such an impression, that Joshua scrapped his original ideas for a screenplay and set out instead to make a movie about Siyabonga instead.  “I think part of what impressed me about Siya was that he seemed totally unafraid to pursue the things he wanted. He just decides, “this is what I want” and then works towards getting it. So, I decided to make a film about him, and about this moment that stirred so much in me.  I truly feel like there are many moments in life where we can inhibit ourselves because we are afraid to make a drastic decision. In the particular instance of this film my intuition felt so strong it was impossible to not follow it.”

r siya blue

The film is based on real events, re-enacted by those who lived through them.  Siyabonga’s past echoes in his present in much the same way that South Africa’s own history seems to have left an indelible mark on the people and places of the film.  Siya is astonished at how things have turned out, “I honestly never thought for one moment that I would ever act in front of the camera, let alone on a proper film.  Playing myself was an interesting experience, I did not have to do any research about my character as I usually do.”

r siya bench

Joshua continues, “With this film I wanted to make something that presented the truth of a person’s spirit in the context of a country dealing with many obstacles and historical trauma. I wished to make something totally in awe of the presence of people and places as they are. I wished to do this while being observant and obedient to the rhythms and details that constitute their essences. To make a film that attends to the reality of life without bias, where both cruelty and joy are equal elements which cannot be escaped and therefore must be confronted.”

r film still park

Shot on location in Mpophomeni, Howick and Pietermaritzburg with many of Siya’s neighbours and friends (in particular, Sabelo Khoza and Ntokozo Mkhize) participating, this film is certain to delight local audiences, and we hope enchant the judges at the Locarno Film Festival too.

Ntokozo Mkhize, Sabelo Khoza and Siya Majola on the set of Siyabonga

Recently, Siya was himself a judge at the Trashion Show held in Howick. “I am passionate about helping my community. Mpophomeni is a great place to live.  It is a small community, but some of the issues are big.  I am determined to play my part in making things better.”

sq siya

So armed with his brand new passport, his signature crisp white shirt and stylish shoes, Siya boards a plane bound for Switzerland soon.  “I am most looking forward to seeing the movie”, he smiles, “I can’t wait to see the movie.”

We’ve put a bottle of champagne on ice and look forward to Siya coming home to tell us all about his adventures.  Would you like to contribute a little spending money to make this a memorable trip?  Banking details below.
r siya champagne

S Majola, Capitec Bank, Account number: 1380639830.  Do let Siya know about your generosity so he can share his stories with you when he gets home – mohhamedmajola@gmail.com

 

 

Enaleni Open Day

Exploring Enaleni Farm, small farmer Thembi Ngobese realised that she now knew what heaven would be like. This was it!

Richard Haigh has transformed a wattle infested 10ha near Camperdown into a Place of Agricultural Abundance – as the name Enaleni states in isiZulu. The farm celebrates the diversity of heritage breeds (many are indigenous) of domesticated animals with interesting histories and stories in South Africa. The mixed farming system of plants and animals present visitors with an opportunity to ponder the relationship between animals, plants and a non-industrialised approach to landuse and food production. Here you will find no herbicides, pesticides or anti-biotics and the animals are most definitely not mutilated (castrated or dehorned).

r bean sculpture and girls

“Few people know where or how the animals and vegetables they eat are farmed,” Richard told the enthusiastic group of small farmers and gardeners from the Midlands and greater Durban who attended the open day, “ours are raised with care, killed with respect and cooked with love.”  Apparently two species of domestic animal go extinct every week, which makes Richard’s work to preserve diversity particularly important.

r richard and rooster

The traditional multi-coloured Zulu maize ugatigati captured everyone’s imagination. While not originally from Africa, this maize has adapted to the soil and climate, and for the past 25 years, seed has been diligently saved to ensure that it has not been contaminated by commonly grown GMO maize.

r traditional maize

“If we grow some,” asked Inge Sciba, “how do we make sure that it does not cross pollinate with our neighbours’crop?” Richard suggested staggering planting times – if planted a month after the neighbour, there would be little chance of crossing.  At Enaleni, the maize is ground in a big old hand-grinder to produce delicious speckled polenta.

r maize meal

Enaleni is home to South Africa’s biggest herd of multi-coloured izimvu sheep, with their rasta hairstyles, tiny mouse-like ears and fat tails.  Over many centuries they have co-evolved with local conditions to have strong back legs that help them forage in small trees and have a high tolerance to tick-borne diseases and parasites. They have a unique flavour, much leaner than Karoo lamb.  Richard does not castrate the sheep, or dock their tails as is common practice amongst farmers.

r richard lamb group

Having read about Enaleni before visiting, Nhlakanipho Nzimande was keen to meet Marigold and Delilah who provide the farm with milk (shared, of course, with their calves).  He left inspired to add a few cows to his farming enterprise and learn how to make his own cheese. “It was a real eye-opener for me.” he said.

Spha Mabaso was so pleased that Richard’s cows were also Nguni /Jersey crosses and his method of hand milking and sharing was the same as his family practiced in Mpophomeni. “I’d love to bring my grandfather here.”

r meeting marigold

Richard turns this milk into delectable halloumi, ricotta, feta, maas and butter.  We were treated to the most delicious handmade ice-cream at lunch.  Neliswa Ntombela raved “I can’t wait to eat that fresh ice-cream again. It was the best I have ever tasted. I loved the guava wine and will be making some for myself. Richard was so friendly when we asked him questions and shared the ways of making all the food with us. He even knows all the names of the animals and vegetables in my language, isiZulu.”

r icecream pecan crisp

Among all the interesting varieties of fowl, Nhlakanipo and Neliswa were really taken with the “gigantic yellow” Buff Orpingtons.   At lunch, one of the dishes on offer was chicken pie – made from the Venda chickens.  Two breeds of turkeys live happily at Enaleni – American Mammoth Bronze and the Beltsville White.

r turkey

The spotted landrace Kolbroek pigs are believed to be descended from animals that swam ashore after a ship wreck in 1778.  At Enaleni they are farmed in a way that enables them to free range and free-farrow and express their natural behaviour. Their diet includes grasses, macadamia nuts, fruit, insects, maas /whey from the dairy cows and gmo-free grains grown right there. They thrive as a result.

r pigs

Enaleni reminded Christeen Grant of mountain villages in Lesotho – where everything has a reason to exist – the animals are all part of daily life, they and the crops are harvested in a sustainable way to ensure survival of the richest kind, uncontaminated by chemicals and organically produced. “Richard introduced us to his farm with justifiable pride. The pigs, sheep, cows, hens, turkeys and ducks were all happily going about their lives, the veggie garden flourishing even in winter. All were interconnected, mulch from the animals enriches the soil in the garden, and all are part of an ethically sustainable produce, which we sampled at lunch, scrumptious! Whilst showing us round the farm Richard explained that he could look us in the eye when he said he would be eating the livestock and their produce, that he used to be vegetarian. He can, because he farms with ethic, not greed. He is also generously happy to share seeds and information with others. Bathed in cool sunshine the aloes, veggie garden and animals glowed with vitality. A stunning example of how to live sustainably.”

r ntombenhle friend

Before lunch, Richard invited everyone into the ever-evolving vegetable garden to gather salad for lunch. Amongst the recognisable greens, some unusual varieties flourished and plenty of ‘weeds’ – nutritious wild greens known as imifino i isiZulu.

r collecting salad

The beautiful tunnel planted with Double Beans had many of us paying extra attention to create one of our own at home.

r pam and inge

The abundant broad beans looked healthy in the winter sun, but how on earth would Enaleni make use of all the beans they looked set to produce? “Why, falafel of course,” Richard told us, “fava beans are traditionally used for falafel.”

r richard broad beans

Clearly Richard is fascinated by relationships between plants – the tamarillo, cape gooseberry and pineapple sage growing beside one another all have the same region of origin, so naturally grow well together and taste fabulous when combined in dishes. Many tried a tree tomato for the first time and took some fruit home for seed to grow their own. The Enaleni orchard has avocado, macadamia, guava and olive trees too. Spha Mabaso loved all the new ideas to add value to the guavas he produces – dried strips and bottled in syrup. “The best part about Enaleni is that the crops that they produce are organic just like mine. I love the way he lets nature take its course and not to follow the standardized methods by commercial farmers.  I believe I still got a long way to go in terms of learning all the processing methods. The is so much I can learn from if I keep attending events like this – growing in terms of business and skills of production.”said Spha.

Oh, we just kept on learning and sharing all day!

r Sam and Carol

Enaleni is in a rain shadow belt – the transition zone between coastal and hinterland. Richard reminded us that edges, or transition zones, between two biomes are usually where the greatest diversity occurs.  They never have enough rainfall at Enaleni, but a slow and steady borehole and extensive use of grey water ensure that livestock and plant flourish.

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Enaleni grows soya and traditional grains (sorghum, millet, maize) that are certified GMO-free and save their own seed.  “Seeds are the backbone of agriculture, our investment in the future. There is no food sovereignty without seed security. Seed sovereignty is vital to Enaleni’s agroecological approach to food production.”  We all agreed.

r aloes and sorghum

Members of the Midlands Barter Markets and Mpophomeni gardeners shared seeds with new friends (as they regularly do). Those unused to trade without money, were a bit unsure when we accepted hugs in exchange for seeds, but soon got the hang of it!  Spha Mabaso brought fresh Speckled Beans, Thembi Ngobese a range of pretty beans she grows on her two hectares in Swayimani. Rose Kunhardt shared fascinating African Horned Cucumbers she had grown in Dargle.  Ntombenhle Mtambo shared fennel, chard and carrot seed from her township garden.

Christeen Grant shared seed originally from Lesotho and Nikki Brighton interesting varieties originally grown by rural farmers in Zululand – including Canavalia ensiformis, or jack bean. Known in isiZulu as the bean that causes flatulence – umadumanqeni!

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Over lunch on the veranda, plans were made to visit each other’s gardens, recipes and gardening stories were shared.  We feasted on pies of chicken or butternut and Jerusalem artichoke (using herbs and spices grown within sight) and a flower decked salad.  A visitor from Holland, Rosa Deen was delighted to have been invited.  “I love seeing how the sense of community grows at these kinds of events. Knowledge thrives when it is shared, not sold.”

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“Richard has worked tirelessly for 14 years to make the place a living dream for farmers and visitors. He is not a lazy person and will not fail. He works hard and reaps the fruit. The food and drinks were excellent – all made from fruits, vegetables, herbs grown on the farm. My body feels younger. Ngiyabonga kakhulu.” Thembi Ngobese enthused.

Carol Addis was entranced. “No warm winter day could have been spent in a more delightful and enlightening place than Enaleni Farm. Richard is passionate about eco agriculture, enhancing his property with natural aloes and beautiful vegetable gardens for animals, birds and swarms of insects to mix freely. He regrets the odd bit of bird netting to protect green crops from mouse birds and monkeys – this attitude to other beings is so refreshing. Richard is an inspiration – an absolute treat of slow food in a fast food world.”

r thembi george inge carol

Tutu Zuma loved the networking and meeting new people. Ntombenhle Mtambo was thrilled to find all three cook books that she is featured in on Richard’s coffee table!  “Richard is an example to us all – he respects, collects, saves, re-uses, protects, cares, nurtures and his animals walk freely. We saw evidence of what we need in our daily lives. I feel proud to be part of the Slow Food Mpophomeni team and show my colleagues this special place of plenty.” said Ntombenhle.

It was a truly splendid day of savouring new tastes, making new friends, sharing seeds and soaking up Richard’s wealth of knowledge.

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Bruce Haynes concludes “As a young person growing up in the 21st century, experiencing a farm that can cook up three-course meals using only ingredients from with a 350m radium of the kitchen was nothing short of magical. Richard’s relationship with the organic farm-system he has created, and his pragmatic compassion for his animals, models a way forward for all of us seeking to live more wisely and fully on this planet.”

r bruce spha

Richard Haigh hosts lunches using only ingredients grown at Enaleni on the first Sunday of each month – Eataleni – which are delicious and inspiring.   See Enaleni Farm on Facebook for details or call: 0828722049. You are very likely to make a new friend too.

r nhlaka and inge