Travel, Gardens

Urban Goes Green: Part II. Growing Hope at Moyo we Khaya Garden in Khayelitsha

In the dusky plains of Khayelitsha, impressive vegetable gardens spread life and hope under the guidance of a green-thumbed gogo – the highly-respected Christina Kaba of Abalimi Bezekhaya.
Valentina Nicol

If you were to pick the most fertile, flourishing gardens in Cape Town, your mind would naturally wander to the well-tended for lawns of Constantia, or perhaps a manicured wine estate in Franschhoek. Yet, unexpectedly, in the dusky plains of Khayelitsha, impressive vegetable gardens spring eternal. This is hardly surprising, though, when you consider that green-thumbed gogo – the highly-respected Christina Kaba of Abalimi Bezekhaya – is behind it.

Abalimi Bezekhaya is something of a household name in Cape Town, and is a community-based agricultural, non-profit organisation that allows underprivileged members of the township the chance to overcome poverty by growing their own food in a garden under their own management. Started in the 1980s as a means of uplifting residents by making the most of the empty space in the townships and turn them into something of value: vegetable gardens. Many of these urban farmers, who started only as subsistence farmers, have since moved on to supplying Abalimi with their excess produce, which can end up at the weekly Oranjezicht City Farm Market, in the kitchens of the country’s top restaurants or as part of a box scheme called Harvest of Hope.

ALSO READ: Oranjezicht City Farm: A Neighbourhood Project Turned Community Upliftment

The Moyo we Khaya garden, built on a single hectare, is a vital source of healthy food to the residents in the immediate Khayelitsha area. Everywhere you look, there is an endless bounty of wholesome vegetables, herbs and the odd fruit here and there. The farm is there to support the community, and so the produce is for sale to anyone who wants to buy from them. Neighbours, local entrepreneurs and residents all stop by. They also supply local women’s shelter Ilitha Labantu with fresh veggies every week. Abalimi, however, keeps them busy, with a restaurant to which they stock produce, as well as their commitment to the Oranjezicht City Farm Market.

Christina is hardly a newcomer to the veggie game – she’s been a stalwart in Abalimi since the mid 1980s and is largely responsible for the success of this subsistence-based garden scheme. Having moved to Cape Town from KwaZulu-Natal, she ended up joining Abalimi when, she says, ‘a white lady stopped in front of my house and asked to see my vegetable garden.’ Calling on her agricultural experience from working on a farm in KZN, she had set up a small vegetable garden in her backyard in Khayelitsha. News of her veggie garden soon spread far and wide, and Abalimi wanted to get her onboard to help open a new training centre in the township. Despite her insistence that she was not suited to the job (having only got as far as matric, she felt unqualified to teach anyone anything), she joined the team as a centre manager in the first location in Nyanga. After six months she was moved to a field-officer role where she trained even more people. Abalimi likely wouldn’t be the organisation it is without Christina, as she eventually made her way up to CEO of the group. She’s since retired from her full-time role, but you will always find her in the Moyo we Khaya garden.

Interestingly, Moyo we Khaya was never initially intended to be the abundant veggie garden that it is today. First, the land was secured by Christina to build a community centre, but owing to the proximity of Lookout Hill community centre, the premier advised Christina to develop something else. Then, the idea was for a community swimming pool, yet the plans fell through once again. Eventually, the most logical idea was a vegetable garden to support the surrounding residents. Following the formula that worked so successfully in the rest of Abalimi’s gardens, in 2014 the land was cleaned, levelled and set up for growing. The first thing they grew? ‘Spinach!’, Christina exclaims. As part of her intention to win the community over, she made sure they started off growing veggies that the locals recognised and ate – such as carrots and potatoes. Then, they opened up the garden to whoever wanted to work and to whoever wanted to buy veggies.

This garden is quite simply remarkable for its role in uplifting a community, and there’s something so special about an initiative that gets people involved and genuinely interested in their health. ‘I’ve loved being able to help the really poor and offer them these amazing veggies, but we’re also helping the people who work here,’ she continues, ‘Some of these people didn’t even have a bank account before they started working here and within a couple of months, they were able to open one.’ Financial security – as well as food security – is something most of us take for granted, and Moyo we Khaya – incredibly – covers both of those bases.

It seems like there’s nothing this little garden can’t do, yet Christina is not resting on her laurels just yet. Next on the agenda is an impressive tunnel that will soon be producing oyster mushrooms, as well as a recently secured half-hectare next door, which is to become a processing space. They’re currently getting the funds together to establish space for cleaning and packing, as well as a boardroom for meetings to take place. Ultimately, there’s always room for growth, and Christina, along with her jacked-up team, have created an inspiring and fertile beacon of hope for the community. And this only seems to fuel them to do even more great work.

For more details about Abalimi Bezekhaya and how you can get involved visit abalimibezekhaya.org.za.