A Gardener with Hip Hop Italian Swag

It is unusual to find young people in our community who appreciate soil and the benefits of gardening, but there are some unique individuals. Meet Thembelani Teeza Jili – a well-known, multi-talented young man who has been working for African Conservation Trust in partnership with Mpophomeni Conservation Group in their mission to make school gardens awesome, and to establish gardens in hundreds of homesteads in Mpophomeni.

Teeza with his dog Teena

Thembelani’s love for gardening has been lifelong and is motivated by his love for beautiful and colourful flowers.  He realised sadly that he could not make money selling flowers in our community because people don’t eat flowers.  “I love food gardening because there is wealth in the soil, and nourishment in whatever comes from that soil and I love good food,” he says, adding “with veggie gardening you can make that little bit of money for airtime and other food because you cannot eat all the food you produce.  I sell some to whoever is willing to buy”.

Teeza with red nose pitbull Alia

Thembelani is a member of the Hip Hop dance group called Guns and Roses which he started with his lifelong friend Philani Ngubane. He is also a fashion designer of a unique style that he calls Hip Hop Italian Swag and an actor who has performed in many stages in KwaZulu Natal. Thembelani is one of the founders of the weekly poetry sessions, where Mpophomeni artists meet, are given a platform to share their craft and are inspired to grow their talents.


He has just been handed a piece of land below the Bethel Ministries tent. His vision is to work with the youth and plant seasonal vegetables to sell to big supermarkets. He will not be doing this only for himself, he just wants to make sure everyone has food.

Little Green Heroes

Young environmentalists from Mpophomeni, dubbed ‘Green Heroes’, are determined to make a difference in the world after enjoying the wonder of nature at the Green Heroes Indaba 2015, held in Umgeni Valley in Howick. The Wildlands’ Green Heroes initiative, funded by N3 Toll Concession (N3TC), exposes children from communities around the province to nature – through time spent in reserves learning about the environment and leadership.

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Green Heroes hike in Umgeni Valley

Sixteen Green Hero learners in grades 5, 6, and 7 from Zamuthule, Nhlanhleni and Sifisisihle Primary schools in Mpophomeni learnt the importance of leading by example in their schools and community and being pioneers for local environmental action. They discussed and sought solutions to the environmental and social challenges plaguing our society.

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Green Heroes are the change

Having not been exposed to nature previously, their interest in it grew as they became more knowledgeable about the environment and participated in various activities. They explored the Shelter Falls trail and adventured through the Nature Reserve crossing the river and experiencing the wildlife. They also participated in activities such as Blind Square, which teaches about leadership and working in a team; the climate change picture building game, and conducted MiniSASS tests: a citizen science tool to test river health.

r Young green leaders doing the MiniSASS scoring a citizen science tool to check river health
Young green leaders doing the MiniSASS scoring a citizen science tool to check river health

Over the three days, they learnt more about themselves and discovered ways of improving their immediate surroundings. An ecstatic Akhona Nxele from Sifisisihle Primary School, who particularly enjoyed the Shelter Falls trail, commented, “the beauty of this place has made me realise how important it is to care for our environment and never destroy it.”

Sisanda Mthethwa from Zamuthule Primary vowed that she would encourage her peers to keep the environment clean. “I will ask them to stop littering and instead recycle papers, bottles and plastics as that can give us money and enable us to live in a much cleaner environment.”

r Green Heroes from Mpophomeni Andiswa Ngcobo, Sisanda Mthethwa and Luyanda Morolong enjoying the waterfall
Andiswa Ngcobo, Sisanda Mthethwa and Luyanda Morolong enjoying the waterfall

Green Leadership Manager, Manqoba Sabela, urged the Green Heroes to emulate human rights activist Mahatma Ghandi’s philosophy, “to be the change they want to see in the world”. Green Heroes are a younger version of Wildlands’ Ubuntu Earth Ambassadors – individuals who are passionate about the environment and their communities, who promote active citizenship by holding events, dubbed ‘Citizen Days’. These highlight special days on the calendar and promote activities such as clean ups, tree planting and river monitoring. The young Green Heroes will continue to promote environmental awareness by participating in and assisting with Citizen Days held by Ambassadors in their communities.

r Green Heroes doing the Caterpillar transverse activity which tests communication skills, leadership and ability to work in a team
Green Heroes doing the Caterpillar transverse activity which tests communication skills, leadership and ability to work in a team

Wild Water Walk

The sun rose high and hot on the morning of the 3rd of October – a perfect day for a Water Festival!

As a part of the Mpophomeni Enviro Club’s work towards becoming Water Explorers, and for the WESSA EcoSchools water project supported by the Department of Water and Sanitation, the Enviro Club members hosted a Water Festival to share what they have learnt about water with their community.

Seven Water Stations were set up along a route which started at the Nokulunga Gumede Memorial Wall, went up Mandela Drive, past the taxi rank, and into Mhlongo Rd, ending  at the Mpophomeni Community Garden.

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Zamile Mtambo of Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) had been collecting cardboard and with some children, painting bright banners to encourage everyone to stop polluting the streams of Mpophomeni.   Her dream is to create a park along the eMhlangeni stream, with a path from the Community Garden all the way to the Library, with clean flowing water, indigenous plants, eco-benches and trees to sit under.

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Each station along the Water Walk focused on a different topic. At the Library the public were enticed to participate and watch a very entertaining edu-active puppet show by Yo-Puppet Co.

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At the next stop, everyone learnt about ‘secret water’ – the water which goes into the production of everyday items (for example: did you know that it take 10 500L to make a pair of Jeans?)  Philani Ncgobo commented “This secret water was the fact that amazed people the most.”

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Youngsters got to experience how water makes music and how the water cycle works.

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Ayanda Lipheyana of MCG/DUCT was not able to conduct a miniSASS test in the stream as the water quality was simply too awful with an overflowing manhole nearby. Instead they did a mock miniSASS and discussed what to do about the dilemma of bursting manholes. We need to encourage residents to take responsibility for reporting overflowing sewers and monitoring the condition of the streams near their homes. Water leakages and sewage problems should be reported to:

  • uMngungundlovu District Municipality Call Centre 080 0864 911
  • Ayanda Lipheyana 076 434 6719

Passers-by learnt how to tell if water is polluted, how to purify it and were encouraged to write their own pledge to protect precious water.

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One station shared ideas on how to save water in your home and garden.

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The Enviro Club kids estimated that they had collectively spoken to 105 people during the course of the morning spreading the message that water is extremely precious.

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Ntombenhle Mtambo from MCG showed the visitors around her waterwise garden, emphasising the importance of swales to harvest and store water and mulch to prevent evaporation.

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” I was so impressed, theses kids know what they are talking about! I liked it that they used real experiences from their home and community to explain.  I thought I knew a lot about water, but they have even taught me somethings today.  I believe that these kids can make a big difference, changing things in our community.”

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Julia Colvin and Bridget Ringdahl from the Water Explorers programme, funded by GAP, attended the festival, and awarded the kids with book prizes for their efforts.

If you missed out on the fun, we hope to have another festival next year during National Water Week in March. Keep your eyes and ears open for news!

resized - discussing purification methods