One Home, One Garden

r ntombenhle sitting in garden“The Government had a plan like this, but it failed,”  Ntombenhle tells me. “One Home, One Garden won’t fail in Mpophomeni,” she adds determinedly.  It certainly won’t if Ntombenhle has anything to do with it!

It has long been her dream to turn Mpophomeni into a flourishing food forest.  She started in her own back yard, leading by example, then turned a dumping site into an astonishingly productive garden and now, in partnership with the African Conservation Trust is creating hundreds of new gardens every month.   “The reason it didn’t work before was that the Government didn’t listen to the people, talk to them about what they needed. They just handed out tools and seeds and didn’t offer real advice and assistance.”  

In August 2014, Ntombenhle and a band of volunteers began work on clearing the piles of plastic, glass and builders rubble on the corner of Mhlongo and Stadium Roads in Mpophomeni.  She believed that if she could turn this bit of unloved ground into a very visible flourishing food garden, she would be able to inspire others to do the same in their backyards.  “At first people wondered what was going on, but many already knew me and my small productive garden at home, so they were not really surprised.”  Within a couple of months the garden was producing food and attracting a lot of attention.


Mpophomeni Conservation Group was invited to participate in an African Conservation Trust (ACT) workshop to discuss their Gigabyte Guardians Project and plans to create thousands of gardens across the Midlands. Ntombenhle’s enthusiasm and determination shone and within a couple of days a team of enthusiastic young people trained in permaculture principles had settled in Mpophomeni.  To make things even better, ACT employed 19 local people who had previously been volunteering in the Community Garden.  What a team this was turning out to be!

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“Permaculture gardens can do many things to uplift the community. I would like to address the issues they face in a practical and sustainable way. This is also our chance to show them how to recycle, save water, eat healthily, make money, improve the environment and to teach young people about Values. This is an ongoing development programme where skills learnt will be passed to others to uplift everyone in the long term.”

It has not been all smooth sailing to spread their message.  Sometimes people have locked their gates and said no, but after observing the work happening in their neighbours gardens realised that the team knows what they are doing and works neatly, and invite them to come back.

Many of the concepts are completely new in Mpophomeni. The idea of keeping the ground mulched has met some resistance, but now that the dry period is here, gardeners are observing how it helps keep the soil moist.  Plenty of people think you can only grow crops in Summer, but the abundant green gardens on every corner are setting a great example of year round production, as are the veggies flourishing amongst other plants in traditional flower beds.

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Everyone’s hearts sing when they see that they are making a real difference in someone’s life. Mpumelelo Kheswa “Thanks, I can’t believe these guys helping me for free. I always had a problem with the slope and erosion, these swales are a new thing for me. I will plant spinach and cabbage soon.”  Nomsa Vilakasi was also astonished that they didn’t need to pay for the service. “I am so happy that you are here and you don’t want money because I don’t have money to pay you.”

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76 year old Mr Moses Mthembu can hardly walk, but still loves gardening, even on his hands and knees. When the ACT/MCG Garden team offered to give his veggie patch a makeover he was thrilled. “I am not well, but growing plants is one thing I like. I am one of the oldest citizens of Mpophomeni but never before have I seen such things as all the young people working so hard helping the community. I give you my blessings.”

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Often people simply want to be listened to, to share their stories. “I am 66 years old and have been taking care of this garden since 1976.”  remembers Meggi Makhanye, “My parents laughed at me when I planted, but I like the fresh veggies I get. I don’t sell, but can help those who are unable to plant and grow for themselves.”   Brightness Chagwe is determined she won’t be buying vegetables from town anymore and Gloria Gwala is going to start selling some of her produce to make extra cash, after feeding her family.

Not everyone understands the Permaculture way.  A small group of volunteers have been following up on the gardens created by the ACT/MCG teams, visiting elderly people to see what help they need, give them gifts of seedlings and help them mulch and companion plant.  “This is making a big difference,” says Ntombenhle, “the gardens are looking lovely and the old people are so pleased to talk to us about their gardens and ask for advice.  Just digging the beds is not enough, we have to follow up – visit, encourage and help – especially the elderly. We go with a small gift of seedlings and talk to them about how they are doing. We explain the principles of Permaculture, the value of eating fresh food and how to save energy, water and money.  If they build the soil and don’t keep turning it over, these gardens will last a long time.” 

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Ntombenhle is really delighted that her community is benefitting from this opportunity.  “It is exciting to do these things in our community and see people experiencing new ideas. It feels good to listen to their views and needs and to give advice.  I can see that now people are wearing new glasses and they can see everything that we have promised. We are here to do magic. Our team is hard workers and this project will benefit everyone.”

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African Conservation Trust intends creating 4000 gardens and planting 4000 plum trees this year!  “I am happy to be part of this great team. The effort everyone puts in is amazing. I am humbled and very excited. My dream is coming true.” concludes Ntombenhle.  Thanks go to the Global Greengrants fund, N3Toll Concession, Rotary and many generous friends who have contributed along the way – every bit helps.

See more pictures of Mpop gardens at:

Nature Reserve on our Doorstep

During  the holidays many children of school going age are left with nothing to do but wander around the streets, playing mindless games.  So, when they heard of the Mpop Kidz Club excursion to Thurlow Nature Reserve they were very excited.  Thurlow, on the edge of Midmar Dam,  is only a few kilometres from Mpophomeni (within easy walking distance)  but sadly many people only visit the area on Christmas Day to picnic and never explore, see the animal life, or play in the water.

On the 10th of July, Mpophomeni Conservation Group members Lindiwe Mkhize, Zamile Mtambo, Nkulu Mdladla and Penz Malinga gathered 41 enthusiastic and excited children from different parts of the Township to learn about the biodiversity the Nature Reserve offers and also to have fun. Taxis arrived at 9am sharp.

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We  began with an interpretive trail.  Walking through the winter grassland toward the dam.

RE IMG_1651We encountered a terrapin, it appeared dehydrated.  Penz picked it up to get it off the tracks and prevent it being run over by a car.  The terrapin (probably a helmeted terrapin Pelomedusa galeata – the only terrapin that would be found naturally at Thurlow)  joined us on the rest of the walk.

r penz with terrapin

We walked past some Blue gum trees where there was lots of glass bottles, rubble and ruins of stone walls.

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We spotted some zebra, blesbok and red hartebeest in the distance ahead of us. We asked the group to quieten down so that we could get quite close to the animals without them feeling edgy.

r red hartebeest

Penz explained that the blesbok had got their name from the white mark on their  faces called  a blaze in English and bles in Afrikaans. We also learned that the blesbok is sometimes afflicted by a nasal worm parasite (Oestrus variolosus larvae)  that makes it bob its head. We watched closely for this ‘bobbing’. Everyone was fascinated by this, Fezeka Mbanjwa commented “I didn’t know that the buck had a worm living inside its head,  I have added new knowledge,  I’m happy.”

The group then encountered a termite mound and had a discussion about the anteater.  This animal has a long sticky tongue which it stretches down the hole it makes in the mound to scoop up hundreds of termites. Many questions arose – the funniest one was  “Does the anteater eat to get full?”   It is called an anteater because the majority of its diet is termites and it does eat until its has had enough was the reply.

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The group saw some zebras. “Why do you think they are so stripy?”  asked Penz.  She explained that in a grassland where there are predators like lions,  the confusing stripes help camouflage them. When the group stands together it gives the illusion of being a far bigger beast.  There is also a theory that the alternating black and white stripes have an ‘air conditioning effect’ –  have black stripes to absorb heat, while the white ones to reflect it causing airflow across the skin.  “Yoh, they are so beautiful” said Sandile Msomi. “Can we come and visit them again?”

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We spotted a pair of resident Egyptian Geese taking off from a tree, a whole span of ducks as we approached the dam and we also found a dead Pied Kingfisher.

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When we got to our picnic spot,  we put our bags down and took off some of our layers as we had warmed up while walking. Everyone enjoyed the river bank games lead by Zamile.

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The younger kids practiced lap sitting!

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The very best moment that the children loved, was when they had to go in the water to do a miniSASS.  They were very amused, you would swear they were at the beach!

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We didn’t find any invertebrates in the water but found bad water weeds and saw signs that the invertebrates had matured and left the water as adults.


Akhona Nyathi said “I wasn’t myself. My  granny told me not to go near the dam as there is a huge snake that will swallow me.  I was sad but after seeing everyone playing along the banks of the dam,  I saw it was not true”.

r searching for insects in Midmar

We had worked up an appetite after playing in the water and were treated to scrumptious lunch of homemade vetkoek, boiled eggs and tomato which everyone thought was the most delicious combination ever.  Apples and oranges finished off the picnic.

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After lunch everyone was given cards with double sided sticky tape.  They had to look for natural  treasure in the form of different grass types, leaves and feathers.

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The children collected these to have something to show others at home and had a whole lot of fun.  “I have never walked fearlessly in the long grass as I am doing today”  said Snethemba Ngcongo happily. Melusi Dladla added “It was a  perfect day. I enjoyed everything.”

r melusi dladla with his treasures

The taxis arrived to take us home at 3pm – tired, happy children chattering about their day. Sbonelelo Zuma ”I  liked the long walks and doing minisass even though the water was cold but I enjoyed and the part where we had to go and pick up different leaves and grass. I even got a chance to play with binoculors and the camera.”

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Asanda Maphumulo : ”I am lost for words because of the happiness I have.  It was worth coming to this trip.  The lunch was something that I was not expecting I thought maybe it was going to be sandwiches or something else but I had vetkoek and tomatoes. It had this unique taste that I had never tasted before. I learned that its important to leave foot prints on the ground not litter – not only in Nature Reserves but every where I go.”

We would like to thank N3TC for sponsoring the wonderful trip. Ntombenhle Mtambo for making vetkoek, Lindiwe Mkhize for boiling eggs, Philemon Mahlaba EKZNW Officer in Charge of Thurlow for waiving the entrance fee, Nikki Brighton for doing the shopping, Nkulu Mdladla for taking the photos and the parents who gave their children permission to be part of this.

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