The Struggle for a Community Food System
Nombulelo Sineke, Vuyokazi Made, Nohlumelo Jacobs, Siyabulela Mama and Tuletu Nombona | 23 April 2021
More than anything else the COVID – 19 pandemic has exposed the great inequalities in our society. As we have seen more explicitly, hunger, poverty and unemployment are manifesting in great levels. While over 10 million people were unemployed before the pandemic, now over 2, 2 million people more have lost their jobs during the course of the pandemic.
This has left many communities of the working class in a precarious situation, even greater than the conditions they had faced before the pandemic. And this was when communities of iBhayi and many others saw the threat this poses to food security as food prices rose. The problem of food security is at the same time also a problem of the environment, access to land and water.
Here we share our collective experience as community farmers in various parts of iBhayi.
In Wells Estate in eBhayi many people, like elsewhere in the country have struggled to find work despite having the skills and knowledge for it. As a result we started to have a discussion of what can we do in the forest that is at the back of our houses. WE then decided to clean up 10 hectares in the forest to start a food garden and then we are able to sell our produce to the local community and take what we could not sell home for our own consumption. We have seen many others from our community using a portion of this forest to kraal their livestock and we were able to use the manure from this for our farming . However, since is a municipal land we have seen many people occupying this land to build their shacks. We decided to build farmer’s committees for use of the land in this forest and to ensure that people join us in the farming project. We were able to direct direct people who are looking for a place to stay elsewhere.
In our work as farmers we are also faced by problems of water, as we take water from our houses with buckets so we can water our garden. So this work has exposed us to an understanding of many issues, and we can see that although food security is important, it that cannot be achieved without food sovereignty, access to land and water sovereignty and this is why we have also joined the water sovereignty campaign. The skills many of us have, come from what we have learned from growing up in rural homes, applying these skills to face our predicament that has been intensified by the pandemic.
We were moved from Veeplaas to Boyseens Park were our RDP houses were built.here too we began the work of community farmers. When we got here, there was no proper infrastructure and no local shops to buy household groceries. This work was mostly intensified by the high prices of food that we got to see arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.. This led us to the decision to come together to grow food from our own back yards and share the produce amongst ourselves, as this is something that we grew up doing in our rural homes, hence it was the easiest alternative. For instance, someone who hasa beetroot harvest can share with a person who has a different harvest from beetroot. This sharing has grown and has helped people in our community who have been unable to pursue their TB treatment because they don’t they don’t have anything to eat and since you need to have something in your stomach before you take TB drugs.. Boyseens Park, like other places is greatly impacted by the triad of unemployment, poverty and inequality, and the collective gardening we do has enabled us to form a community kitchen that will cook for patients at our local clinic at least once a week..
Sibanye Eco Gang
In Kwazakhele as the Sibanye Community Farmers, our idea of growing food was sparked by a range of issues. We observed that we buy everything from the supermarkets, including food that we can grow for ourselves, and we decided to challenge ourselves in breaking this norm and produce our own food. We were also driven by poverty, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse that has plagued our community. We saw this community farming idea as something that can mobilise the youth against poverty and unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse that Kwazakhele is faced with. We were also driven by the illegal dumping sites, especially in gap taps and saw these dumping sites as sites that can be transformed into community gardens. We held a number of community meetings promoting this idea which was welcomed and supported greatly.
We have also started a community garden in Masakhane and we planned to donate our harvest to the community, but people from our community volunteered to buy our harvest. This has opened up a great community market and the motivation to keep on doing this work. We have also extended this work by training pupils in schools like Mnqophiso Primary School where we have been invited to do so.. Although we faced many challenges in this work which started during the period of the hard lockdown in South Africa, it has shown us how how we can build an alternative food system if we had land and water sovereignty and public support.
In Kwadwesi Extension as the Amandla Study group, we started this work through as backyard gardens. Here the work was started through a number of study group discussions on a number of themes which were mainly around the problem of unemployment. We wanted to complete these study group with something that is practical and started the farming project as the easiest idea to start with. For us community farming was an important mobilising tool against austerity, against GMOs, against unemployment and also against crime, alcohol and drug abuse that has plagued our community. We have also become a part of the South African Food Sovereignty campaign as we also believe we cannot win the struggle against food insecurity without food sovereignty.
Reflecting on this work has challenged us to consider how we use language and to think about how words could also be used to negate this important humanistic work. As a result we have come to see this work not as gardening – a word in English associated with middle class leisure and with the hard work most often performed by working class men whose labour has been marginalised and racialised in our society. This word ‘gardener’ we would like to suggest erases the socially useful work of livelihood food production by working class men and women in urban and rural communities. It is as the isiXhosa term “ukulima”, to farm, and “abalimi” – as farmers – that people involved in community farming refer to themselves and their work in the communities we are involved in .
The Land question
We know fully that land is a burning issue in South Africa and we see the connection with the land question. Whilst we, community farmers, are claiming and regenerating land in schools, clinics and previously neglected open spaces, this land is still very marginal land. And this is made worse because urban land is most often recognized by the state as associated with land tenure for housing and not for integrating local food production. And this contrast with communities that have settled informally on land which is planned for housing . Land must also be aside for several social purposes including urban farming as seen here in Joe Slovo at Silindokhule Pre-primary School, where the Wathint’Abafazi Farmers grow food. Urban planning processes must follow the land allocation and planning processes of communities themselves, resulting in stronger possibilities for urban community farming
We have learned from these activities that we have to struggle for an alternative food system through mobilising communities to organize themselves around this and the issues that are related to it such as the right to land, water and energy sources and a safe environment. These struggles cannot however be separated from other struggles like for a basic income grant, for good local and national government which is democratic and meets the needs of its communities.
- Nombulelo Sineke: Eco Gang Community Farmer
- Vuyokazi Made: Amandla Collective Community Farmer
- Nohlumelo Jacobs: Boyseens Park Community Farmer
- Siyabulela Mama: Works at the Centre for Integrated Post-School Education and Training, Nelson Mandela University and An Activist at Amandla Collective
- Tuletu Nombona: PEC Member for Youth in Agriculture EC and a Community Farmer at Wells Estate