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Ikhaya Garden

How one man’s drive to create a community garden has not only enriched Khayelitsha, but it is something you can enjoy too.

In 2013, when Xolisa Bangani approached a school in his home town of Khayelitsha asking for permission to create a community garden, he was met with some scepticism. His plan was to turn the unutilised parts of the school, which had become litter-dumping grounds, into a flourishing garden.

But he was barely 20 years old, and young people were not exactly associated with sustainable gardening initiatives. However, he was persuasive enough for Isikhokelo Primary School to grant him a three-month probationary concession to use the land and turn it into a food garden. The idea was that it would also create tourism opportunities for the area.

ikhayagarden

After three months of working tirelessly in clearing the land and planting seeds, the school was so impressed that they gave him a 20-year concession.

Nowadays, not only does Ikhaya Garden provide fresh organic vegetables for the school’s kitchen, but it’s slowly changing young people’s perceptions about gardening. Plus it is drawing tourists to the area who want to learn about indigenous gardening and permaculture ethics.

Changing Perceptions 

“I wanted to start the initiative here in Site C in Khayelitsha because the area has a bad reputation,” says the now 29-year-old Xolisa. A quick Google search of “Khayelitsha” returns results – mainly from South African news websites – with headlines like “Protesters burn tyres”, “Protesters burn health facility”, and “Protest over water turns violent”. It would be wonderful to say this was fake news, but sadly, it is not.

When you drive into Site C, you are met with the sight of innumerable shacks that are so tiny, it is hard to imagine that people can live full, functional lives there.

But the upbeat music blaring from speakers in people’s homes, taxis causing traffic congestion, and the street vendors standing side by side, selling clothes, snacks and braaied meat prepared on the spot, all speak of a buzz and verve that the people of Khayelitsha possess.

Ikhaya's lush food garden

Ikhaya’s lush food garden

From Unrest to Inventiveness 

Established in the late 1980s, not only does the partly informal township have a mainly young demographic, but it is also the fastest growing township in South Africa.

When you put that youthful energy together with a drive to escape grinding poverty in an economy that has high levels of youth unemployment, you get rampant unrest – which Khayelitsha is known for – but also inventiveness.

“I grew up here, and I always wanted to be a part of the change,” says Xolisa. “I wanted to change the negative representation of Khayelitsha that the media tends to focus on, and I wanted to make gardening cool.”

As Cool As Can Be

With monthly food markets, community dialogues on food waste, and events where experts are brought in to teach residents how to cook vegetables in a healthy manner, Ikhaya Garden has become as cool as can be. As we chat in the garden, three young boys approach us and ask for some comfrey leaves.

“Are you going to make liquid fertiliser?” Xolisa asks. “Yes,” they respond in unison. There is a proud grin on Xolisa’s face as he gives them his blessing. “Cut the leaves carefully,” he warns.

This is but one of many moments of validation that he is on the right path. “Back in 2013, as we started preparing the land for cultivation, the kids from the school wanted to find out what we were doing. When we told them that we were going to grow food, they were amazed. They thought that seeds came from the shops, not the earth.”

Ultimately, it is about beauty – natural beauty – and being surrounded by nature, a concept that is taken for granted by people who live close to parks or farms. “I did not grow up in a village. Growing up in Khayelitsha, we only ever saw butterflies on TV,” he says.

“I wanted to bring more greenery into the township. You can walk around and try and count the trees in the area. The community doesn’t have many trees.”

A Growing Trend 

To date, there are three more community gardens in the area that have been started by people who were part of this initiative. “I tell everyone who wants to do this, ‘Do everything you have learnt here. I do not want to patent this idea – just make gardening cool.’”

Veggies from the Ikhaya Garden

A friend of his, who was his first recruit, now also runs his own initiative, focusing on composting. That friend had just come of out of prison when Xolisa convinced him to try his hand at gardening.

“Prison had broken him, but gardening changed his life,” says Xolisa, who has become a staunch advocate of gardening being an alternative form of therapy for unemployed youth battling depression.

Getting There

SAA flies to Cape Town several times each day from Johannesburg (OR Tambo and Lanseria), Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth

Words by Thando Ndabezitha 

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