Wow. What a Beautiful Place!

Holidays are perfect for doing something out of the ordinary.  During the April break, the Mpop Kidz Club went on a little adventure into the hills behind the Bethel Ministry with organiser Amanda Ntombela, and her assistant Nonkululeko Mnchube. Amanda reports:

We packed lots of apples and popcorn. Everyone bought their own water bottle.

setting off

As we crossed the first stream, Sbahle was really scared as it was his  first walk and he had heard rumors of a crocodile living in the hills.   We assured him that there was no such thing and Nosipho offered to help him cross, so he felt calmer. It was lovely to observe how all the children helped one another throughout the day – the Kidz Club Code in action.

helping one another cross the stream

We reach an area filled with sand and rocks.  Luyanda, Nonkululeko, Snakhokonke and Melusi (and even Sbahle) all shouted WOW, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL PLACE!  Sbahle suggested that we should come and live up here. This had everyone laughing, remembering that just a short while ago he was the one who wanted to go back home!

kids having fun

I noticed that Noluthando was very quiet. I asked if she was ok, and she replied “I never knew there was a place so beautiful,  so near to home.”

kids climbing

We enjoyed the gift of silence and listened to the mountain breeze tell a story.

mountain breeze tells the story

We climbed higher and found a big mound of hard soil. Londeka asked what it was. I explain it was a home to termites.  She found it hard to believe that a insect so small can build such a big thing.  It is because termites are active, hardworking and all work together that they can achieve this.

termite mound

There were lots of Aloe maculata plants which is the logo of Mpophomeni Conservation Group. We saw only a few flowers, like this Gladiolus.


Lizwi stopped to show us a plant. He picked out a flower and sucked it. A few kids said “Yuck!”, but I explained it was a edible flower and encouraged everyone to try it and enjoy the sweetness. This plant is called utshwala bezinyoni – beer for the birds. Leonotis leonaurus is it’s proper name.  Luyanda took the flower and tasted it, then when he told the others it was  yummy they couldn’t wait for a taste.

tasting beer for the birds

We continued to climb until we reach the top of mountain.

near the top

Here we sat and admired the Mpophomeni view.  Nelisa said “It almost impossible to believe this is Mpophomeni. It is breath taking.”

mpop view

It was a lovely day out, the children saw the beauty  of nature, the view of Mpophomeni and Midmar. Throughout the walk  they were also able to observe the effect that the drought has had – the streams were dry, the plants were burnt and the resevoir was empty. This reinforced the previous lessons about the importance of saving water.

sand shapes

Teenagers, Asa, Phila and Mzwa, headed even further than the little ones.   They climbed the hill near the mealie fields and discovered fabulous views, two small milky coloured dams and an interesting birds nest. Thirsty and hungry after their water ran out, they tried eating some Mdolofiya – Oputunia monocanthra – Prickly Pear.

Micro-adventures with low carbon footprints are such a great idea – especially when you live in the beautiful KZN Midlands. When last did you explore your neighbourhood?

MCG hosts walks in Mpophomeni on the second Tuesday of every month. Meet at the Library at 9 am with R20, hat, walking shoes and water bottle. Contact Penz Malinga to book: 087 236 4480

view of midmar







Later this month, Ntombenhle Mtambo (aka Permaculture Princess) and Penz Malinga (aka Bad Ass Bunny Hugger) head to Cape Town to the Enviropedia Eco-Logic Awards at Table Bay Hotel. Charlene Russell of MMEP nominated Mpophomeni Conservation Group in the Eco-Community category.   This is our submission, according to the Eco-Logic catergories,  which includes comments from friends, partners and supporters at the end.  What do you think? Can we win?

The Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) comprises a group of food growers, seeds savers, environmental activists and environmental students. MCG intend to inspire others in the community to think about their lifestyles with regards to sustainability, resilience, climate change, biodiversity conservation, healthy living and animal rights.

Leading by example, and working with many partners, MCG influence their neighbours by hosting workshops in the community garden, visiting local schools to get gardens flourishing, instilling a culture of recycling, training many people to conduct water quality tests and monitor sewage spills, and building a growing movement of people sharing similar values. Their own lifestyles, homes and gardens provide the inspiration to share their vision of a better, greener, kinder and more sustainable future.

MCG believe that inspiring people to see the value of growing food, protecting water resources and producing zero waste will have a far reaching impact.

Mpop sept 2015 341

Benefit the Earth:
Pollution by sewage is a significant health issue in Mpophomeni. The uMthinzima river flows into Midmar Dam, which is a strategic source of water for residents downstream all the way to Durban. MCG representatives contribute time and skills to the Save Midmar Campaign.

Mpop Kidz Club meets on regularly to explore Mpophomeni, monitor the streams (do miniSASS tests), study grassland, conduct clean ups and create useful items from waste. To dispel the myths and fears that surround snakes, they regularly invite a snake expert to visit. Excursions to Thurlow Nature Reserve showcase natural treasures right on their doorstep, with little carbon expended on transport. Picnic food is locally sourced, with limited packaging. MCG hosts regular walks to introduce outsiders to the township, the sanitation issues and showcase the diversity of the grassland hills.

Rats are decimating gardens and food stores. Many people use poison which has little effect on reducing the rat population, but kills cats, dogs and goats. MCG, in partnership with the Owl Box Project will introduce owls and install owl boxes this year.  Orphaned Barn Owls will be raised at school and released. Lessons in schools and a door to door campaign will teach residents about biodiversity, ecosystems, earth friendly solutions and owls.

haza primary kids 2015 059

Supports Sustainability:
MCG promotes the use of Sunstoves, Wonderbags, Solar jars and iStofu. In partnership with Planet Pellet, MCG is the agent for isitofu and the pellets to power them – reducing reliance on gas and scarce wood.

Rainwater tanks installed at members’ homes attract queues of people asking for water during water cuts – providing an opportunity to discuss water saving and water harvesting.

MCG demonstrate a working model of sustainable agriculture, where few external inputs are required. Their successful garden produces compost and seeds that regenerate the garden and those around it – little has to be bought, all profits can go back into the community.

beans and yellow tomatoes

Embraces Holistic Thinking:
MCG aim to help everyone in the community to make better decisions regarding sourcing food, clothes, energy and building materials with great emphasis placed on the benefits of using local.

Permaculture principles do many things to uplift the community – demonstrating how to recycle, save water, eat healthily, get outdoor exercise, make money, improve the environment and to teach young people about values. Skills learnt are passed to others to uplift everyone in the long term – giving hope, new knowledge and skills to grow real food to feed their families and to sell.

nelly onion parsley
MCG believes that learning from members of one’s own community, who care about the wellbeing of the community, has a greater impact than outsiders who visit occasionally. Also that learning in one’s mother tongue improves understanding considerably.

MCG encourages informal work parties (known as ilima in Zulu culture) to assist people in their gardens. Donations of vegetables are made to orphans, disabled and needy people. MCG believe that stronger communities are more able to withstand the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

r mpop kwa chief mafakathini 153

High quality and ethical standards:
MCG slogan is “We are the change we want to see in the World.” As champions of food security, defenders of their community’s natural resources MCG are real activists for the planet and easily able to share this vision with others. MCG members volunteer their time and energy to assist the community.

As a result of their commitment, passion and hard work, many have recently been employed by the ACT Gardens Project and the DUCT Enviro-Champs Project. Everyone has embraced this opportunity to strengthen their work and step up their efforts.

While MCG do have a small amount of funding to support their work, their aim is to be able to generate enough income from their gardens, permaculture training courses, consulting, writing and running holiday clubs for kids that they are able to sustain their efforts to assist the community on their own.

r colourful mcg team

After years of persistence, MCG secured a lease for municipal land used as a waste dump, to turn it into a garden. This corner of abundance is an inspiring example to neighbours who have embraced new ideas – mulching and companion planting.

Much of the plentiful waste is useful and can have another life. MCG compost the cardboard, turn bread bags into skipping ropes, mesh bags into balls and newspaper into hockey sticks for Kidz Club activities. Plastic bottles stuffed with sweet wrappers become eco-bricks and crisp packets become colourful curtains. Many solutions regarding re-use of waste increase income earning possibilities.

r making eco bricks

Reflects Wisdom and positive emotion:
While no label can adequately describe it, MCG sees joyful production and learning as a fundamental element of their work – food grown from the heart, lessons delivered from the soul and stories told with pride. Healthy society and a productive happy workforce play an important role in sustainable development.

Mpophomeni Conservation Group acknowledges members of their community who stand above the crowd by writing and sharing stories to inspire others – Tall MPoppies – turning the Tall Poppy Syndrome on its head. There are many heroes in this community – Gogos who take care of lots of orphans; neighbours who help the frail and ill; animal lovers who look out for the dogs, goats and cows; gardeners who share produce, seeds and labour freely; small businesses that employ local people; environmentalists who share their passion with young people; volunteers who clear aliens and litter from the streams; teachers who go beyond the call of duty and many more.

Seasonal Celebrations – Pumpkins in May, Winter’s Best Produce, and Summer Greens – encourage gardeners to show off their produce and in the process generates good energy and builds community.

MCG believe that their success is determined by the spirit of participation from the surrounding community.

poppies in pops

Comments from our supporters:

Charlene Russell
Mpophomeni is an environmental education hotspot – it’s a beautiful township, and is a hive of activity! At any time you can drive through and see kids meeting at the Memorial Wall, going for walks in the hills, people gathering to work in gardens, or selling their produce; and all the time sharing what they know, what they have learnt, with others. I think it’s the sharing that makes this community group so special; we live in a time where there is such a disparity between people who ‘have’ and people who ‘do not have’, and here in Mpophomeni the MCG is working to close that gap, even if the unit is just knowledge and time, the MCG is sharing what they know with others, and giving their time freely to improve the quality of living of those around them. Their wealth is truly the diversity of members, each person has their passion that they willing share with everyone. How wonderful would our world be if every community worked like this?

Craig Millar, Municipal Councillor
I am a huge fan of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) and have a massive amount of respect for the work that you all do and what the group has achieved in what is after all a relatively short space of time. Having been privileged enough to make my acquaintance with the indomitable spirit that is Ntombenhle, I can certainly attest to the effectiveness and positive impact the MCG has made in their community.
The ability to engage with a wide spectrum of community members as well as funders and organisations to assist is so important for projects like the community garden to succeed. It also requires hard work and dedication and I have noticed that there is certainly no shortage of that whenever I have paid a visit to the garden site in particular. To turn a dumping site into what can only be described as a triumph for the community in such a short space of time is commendable indeed. Spreading the idea of sustainable eco-friendly gardens to others in this low income area not only helps people put healthy food on the table in an environmentally friendly way, but actually builds community itself.
I am particularly grateful to Ntombenhle for recently accompanying me to a small agri-project that I have been assisting in Emandleni to advise them on more sustainable techniques and to share information and experience. I am hopeful that we are able to get some of the Emandleni people to come over and assist in the Mpophomeni garden and in so doing take the skills and knowledge back to their project.

Mpop sept 2015 261
Doug Burden, Manager DUCT
The work that the MCG are doing has helped greatly to raise the awareness needed to get the authorities to address the pollution levels affecting the Midmar Dam; rallied the support of the locals in Mpophomeni to ‘get involved’ with water and health issues affecting the community; adding significantly to furthering DUCT’s River Health Programme which embraces – healthy communities need healthy rivers. DUCT wishes them every success and encourages Penz Malinga and her passionate team to continue their great work in this important community conservation field. The commitment and passion – in the face of many hardships – is admirable.
Jessica Dreamtime – Coordinator Midlands Meander Education Project
The Midlands Meander Education Project (MMEP) is a proud partner of the Mpophomeni Conservation Group. In fact many of the leaders from this group have come through the MMEP so we know the group very well. We know how hard they have worked and what they have achieved.

The Mpophomeni Conservation Group (MCG) have worked together to transform a vacant plot of land, that was actually used as a rubbish dump, into a flourishing food garden in no time at all. Everyone who participated did this free of charge, as a volunteer. The garden is an outstanding example of what community can achieve when they work together. The garden is used for educational purposes and is now open to visitors who want to learn about permaculture and or buy fresh, healthy, organic food. Surplus is shared with the needy.

The MCG have organised walks, talks, plays and run eco-clubs to educate, inspire and enthuse local youth. They also contribute to local newspapers and openly share their love and passion for the natural environment. Urging people to take environmental action. Their work is extremely valuable as it gives hope and shares other ways of seeing and being in the world.

MCG have worked with us on our Climate change DVD and hosted a few of our school groups, in their garden. We are proud to be associated with this dynamic, fun loving, hardworking and thoughtful group. They deserve all the awards that come their way!

r mpop climate change movie

Judy Bell – Environmental Consultant and Chair of Winterskloof Conservancy

MCG live their vision – “be the change you want to see” and have inspired and motivated local residents to live healthy lives within the capacity of the local life support systems. They have also inspired people far beyond Mpophomeni – we have watched these wonderful people do exceptional things to change hearts and minds and demonstrate that there is indeed a better way. They are not victims of circumstance, but have taken the initiative to make their lives and those of people in Mpophomeni and the KZN Midlands a whole lot better. They have definitely left their mark to show how we can (and should) live more sustainably.
Rutendo Zendah- Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” ― Nelson Mandela
This quote summarizes a journey of the most passionate people I have ever met, who vowed to change their circumstances, bring hope and dreams to their communities, overcame barriers and changed the face of gardening in Mpophomeni. I first met MaNtombe of MCG in December 2013. The light in her eyes when she spoke about her dreams to change her community through agriculture was unmatched. She had the passion, the will and the zeal. I remember thinking to myself that morning, with such a mindset, how could she ever fail? Two years later, a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting MCG community garden and indeed she has not failed.
From a dumpsite, which nobody turned to, a beautiful permaculture garden stands that stops passers-by every moment in admiration. Evidence of a hardworking group of people who had a dream that they never gave up on. They didn’t let anyone to tell them it was impossible. The garden is fully serving the community by supplying fresh nutritious vegetables, hosting workshops for the youth and young children on agriculture and most importantly providing a livelihood for the men and women who only started as volunteers who had a dream and a passion to learn. MCG has continued to help community members set up their own home gardens. They have truly done well and have let their greatness blossom. We are so proud of them.

dancing in the rain 4

Carol Segal – Agro-Ecological Consultant and Founder of Khula Shanti Sanctuary
My experience with the MCG group has always left me feeling inspired about the future of the community which rests below the Mpophomeni Mountain.
I am struck by the inter-generational and inter-gender mix of the group, the way in which they effortlessly flow towards their goals of learning more about the environment. A high level of understanding of fairly complex principles is evident by the worthwhile and pertinent questions members pose during workshops. Many members of the group speak fluent English and grasp the principles around agro-ecology.More importantly they manifest a willingness to integrate the knowledge they receive, applying the principles to their own lives. Enhancing their community. Growing themselves.
Having worked with many communities and Non Profits, my experience is that an organisation is only as strong as its leaders and visionaries. MCG is honoured and privileged to have the enigmatic leadership of Ntombenhle who has a burning passion to accomplish the vision of the organisation. She is an accomplished facilitator and motivates the members of the organisation by leading with example.
I have had the opportunity to be part of a Tree Identification workshop where MCG members were present. I was impressed by the participation and in depth knowledge of birds as well as indigenous flora that was shared by MCG members.
South Africa urgently requires more organisations like MCG, it is uplifting and gives me hope to know that young adults have not forgotten their indigenous inheritance and continue to feel connected to conserving and caring for our earth. I fervently support any endeavours which the MCG embarks on and encourage other organisations to do the same.

Kevan and Karen Zunckel – Zunckel Ecological and Environmental Services
Mpophomeni, as a community has been blessed with a group of enthusiastic youngsters, supported by a group of equally enthusiastic, but possibly not too young folk; who have taken the need for reconnecting with nature and the soil to heart. The usual suite of environmental challenges are prevalent in this township and the Mpophomeni Conservation Group are in the process of systematically addressing them through direct action, raining awareness within the community and working with a number of conservation NGOs on a citizen science basis to keep their work linked to the outside world. Aspects which they are involved in and which stand out are their work on addressing water quality issues in the Mtinzima Stream, a tributary of the uMngeni which flows directly into the Midmar Dam; the development maintenance and promotion of food gardens; and the use of alternative energy sources in response to climate change concerns. The progress and the impact that this group has made stands as an example to many who have far greater resources at their disposal, so one can only hope that their message does rain down on the rest of their community and re affluent adjacent areas.

Renee de Wet – The Expedition Project

Our first expedition of the year was to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, an area we hadn’t visited before. On my way to visit the Mpophomeni Community Garden, my expectations were not unusual. I anticipated seeing a nice vegetable garden and hearing the story behind its creation. What I encountered instead was an organic work of art and its passionate creator. Ntombenhle Mtambo’s determination to make a meaningful difference in her community is beyond inspiring and her garden is hard evidence that will silence even the most jaded naysayers. She created a lush, organic community garden out of a rubbish heap in a rural township in a few short months (get the whole story here). Only, it wasn’t just a few short months. She had been petitioning the municipality to let her use the land for eight long years, while refusing to surrender to other challenges like being an unemployed single mother. Her ‘overnight’ success was almost a decade in the making. That reminds me of something a respected statesman once said: One secret of success in Life is to be ready for your opportunity when it comes. Benjamin Disraeli
But the most remarkable thing was that my companions and I left Mpophomeni feeling invigorated, as if being around Ntombenhle had fed our very souls. She’s not just growing vegetables, but cultivating joy and freedom. We’re very excited to watch the seeds of her vision grow into nourishing shoots that reach her whole community and beyond.

r Ntombenhle Mtambo by Leon Coetzer

Janis Holmes Ward 2 Councillor uMngeni Municipality
Just a short note to let you know how impressed I am with the progress made by the Mpophomeni Conservation Group. I have been following the blog and Facebook page for the group and just love seeing how the group is making a real difference in people’s lives and to the open spaces in the Mpophomeni area. It is lovely to also see that members of the group are constantly networking with other agricultural and conservation groups in order to share their knowledge and learn more so that they can pass it onto to the community. Keep up the good work!

Janis Holmes Peta Lee Mpop picnic
Samson Phakathi – Endangered Wildlife Trust
MCG are walking the talk.
Prolonged droughts and the lack of capacity to produce food leads to food security being under severe threat in most parts of South Africa, a situation which places rural and semi urban communities in a vulnerable position. Small scale agriculture is seen as a socio economic livelihood support mechanism if poverty is to be alleviated in rural and semi urban areas. In spite of this being the dominant livelihood support system very few community members see to it that pockets of vegetable gardens are initiated within homesteads. In a true sense there shouldn’t be any excuse of not producing ones food as long as soil and manpower in available.
The Mpophomeni Township that was once infested with rats and thrash in almost every corner is a totally different place today and this is to be attributed to the series of community gardens that have been initiated. The township is now indeed a better place to live in than when I first arrived in KwaZulu Natal in 2006. As a naturalist, conservationist and resident of Mpophomeni, I am truly proud to be living in an area with people who are full of life with excitements, enthusiasm and a will to produce organic food that will limit ones ecological footprints. I am a proud resident of Mpophomeni and true supporter of the Community vegetable garden.
Sma Sokhela – Community Chest
We have a good relationship with Ntombenhle and her work with us has proved that she is passionate and her training has proved to be fruitful. Those ladies have an amazing passion and patience for the garden training. The groups that they have trained on our behalf are all so excited to start successful gardens. We would like to work with them again in training our Early Childhood Development leaders. The MCG website site shows that you guys are doing such an excellent work in Mpophomeni.

lesle hall KIds in Garden

Watch our Facebook page for news on the 22 April to hear how we did!