France Mtshali, whose surname loosely translates as ‘One who Plants’ admits to not always have been interested in food gardening. After his work of constructing roads and paving in Amberfield ended in 2004, he could not imagine sitting around doing nothing and he needed an income, as did many others. Together with nine other Mpophomeni residents he formed Vuka Wenze Garden Project. The aim of the project was to improve their capacity to alleviate social problems and improve the wellbeing of the general public.
They approached the iNgonyama Trust and the iNkosi Zuma gave them a piece of land adjacent to the uMthinzima stream. The Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience (ZMTE) assisted them with workshops and training. They identified a market for paprika and other spices and became affiliated with the Spice Association and purchased 35000 paprika seedlings which ZMTE paid for. They tilled the land and planted the seedlings and even had an irrigation system put in place. Unfortunately, because of the strong winds and floods not many of the plants survived. After the failure of the first effort and the lack of promised profit, half the volunteers quit. Since then, other volunteers have passed away and now, ten years later, only France Mtshali and Bongani Madela remain at Vuka Wenze co-operative.
Their vegetable plot is well fenced and has a big compost heap, barrels of manure tea brewing and lots and lots of vegetables in various stages of growth. On the edge is a pretty little office, a turquoise painted corrugated iron structure, were they hold meetings and change into their gardening gear. Fortunately, free roaming goats and cows (the bane of township gardens) can’t get in, but crows are a bother and Mr Mtshali quips “Scarecrows just don’t work!” He reckons they have plenty of snakes around too and they love eating the strawberries!
In summer they start at 5am, stop work in the fields to set up their stall on Mandela Drive at 11 and trade until six. In winter, work in the garden only starts at 7 and they close the stall at 4.30.The corrugated iron Vuka Wenza Stall attracts lots of passing trade on the main road into Mpophomeni, every afternoon.
“We could really use more young and vibrant volunteers. The perception that young people have that the elderly must work in the fields, is wrong” says Mr Mtshali, his friend Mr Makhathini adds, “The youth of today have become lazy and are allergic to hard work”.
They make most of their profit from leafy greens (imifino). Also popular are their pickled chillies, beans, and a variety of pumpkins, butternuts and squashes. They regularly donate some of their produce to the orphans. “All that is life comes from the soil. If you want to live long, live on greens and eat fresh, locally grown food.” he concludes.