It’s a warm autumn morning, and Nyanga Junction is a bustle of comings and goings set to an erratic heartbeat of taxi horns. This vibrant ambience forms the backdrop of Asande Food Garden, nestled in the school grounds of Guguletu Comprehensive School on the Cape Flats
Whatever energy the plants in this garden take from this atmosphere seems to add to the quality of the veg - the beans are possibly the sweetest and most tender I’ve ever tasted. The lush garden positively glows under a fine sprinkler mist.
Urban migrant makes his own luck in organic farming
Sibongile Sityebi heads up this urban agricultural masterpiece, supported by Ntombesine and Vuyokazi Wulana, two demure but hard working women from the area. When Sibongile, now 40, first arrived in Cape Town from the Eastern Cape in 2008, he happened upon the garden while exploring his new home. Unemployed at the time, he approached the garden's birth mother, Gertrude Cuba, offering to help by clearing out grass. That led on to laying pipes, amongst other tasks, and the more time he spent the more he learned about cultivation. His commitment soon earned him an invitation to join the small team of growers, who, with the help of the Department of Agriculture, continued developing the garden.
At first the garden’s main market was the local community. But the competition was stiff, as the cost of their organic produce couldn’t rival the street hawkers who were selling at a cheaper rate. “In 2010 we met Abalimi Bezekhaya, and suddenly we had a market that could support us, through the Harvest of Hope organic vegetable boxes,” Sibongile says, picking at a blade of grass. He points at a stack of yellow crates. “Now we harvest five to six crates full a week, which earns us about R4000 a month. This is much more than we were making before.”
A leader with a vision and will to fight for farming
While this income is not really sufficient to adequately support three people and run a business, Sibongile is committed to continuing farming - he has a vision. As the chairman of Evuku Zenzele Urban Farmers’ Association (VUFA), a new umbrella body for food gardens on the Cape Flats (there are approximately 100 in Nyanga and Khayelitsha alone), he is working to secure a much larger segment of land in the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA), which has recently come under threat from proposed housing developments and urban creep.
“The idea is to fight the [housing] development in Philippi. We want to talk to COSATU because we have heard they own that land. We want to secure that land for farming, so it won’t be used to build houses. We need to continue farming on that land. We want to start with at least five hectares. We do need better houses, but we also need farming.”
The need for housing emerges as a complex beast
Sibongile goes on to make some surprising statements on housing. He says he and most people he knows don’t care as much about housing as work. What they want and need is money and skills, so that they can move back to the Eastern Cape and make a better life there. “We don’t want houses here [Cape Town] because most of us are originally from the Eastern Cape. We are here just for work, so we would rather do farming in Philippi, not housing. I see the people here, when they get houses, they sell them or rent them and move back into a shack. Because the only thing they need is money.”
Sibongile’s desire is to take his skills and a lump sum of money, and set up a business in his hometown near Mthatha. For now, he wants to grow his business in Cape Town, and he’s adamant he’d rather have land he can farm than a permanent house in Cape Town. “I’m very happy doing farming. I want to learn more and grow it into a bigger business that employs more people. Then I will go back to the Eastern Cape, and teach people there who don’t have work how to grow and make a living too.”
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are not those of Foodwithastory.co.za. This is a representation of the interviewee's opinion as interpreted by the interviewer.
The Grown in Philippi project is independent of Foodwithastory.co.za. Deni Archer is a founder of this project, which aims to create a relationship between Cape Town’s citizens and the food growing area at its heart. Grown in Philippi is presently a zero income volunteer programme focused on storytelling and consumer education. Grown in Philippi is fully supportive of the Save the PHA campaign, led by Nazeer Sonday. To find out more about the Save the PHA campaign, firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Grown in Philippi, contact email@example.com.