Start main page content

Making gardening cool again

- Kemantha Govender

A group of gardeners in the Western Cape took us through their journey on making gardening “cool” especially for young people in a short film.

The film was presented by the research food group comprising Wits School of Governance, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

WSG’s Dr Darlene Miller has been working with the gardeners since 2017 and debuted the short film at the recent South African Sociological Association congress. She presented on “Gardeners and Matriarchs, beyond the limits of patriarchy”.

The short film which focused on the Ikhaya garden in Khayelitsha featured Athenkosi Ndulula and Xolisa Bangani, two food gardeners. These urban food gardeners who started out as artists and poets a few years ago, are now part of a spreading network of 250 community food gardens across the Western Cape.

At Isikhokeli School in Site C, there is a 70m2 fruit and vegetable garden called Ikhaya, our home. This is the place where Ndulula and Bangani try to spread a new mindset amongst Khayelitsha residents.

“Since we were sharing knowledge of the arts, it felt right to share knowledge about the garden as well,” said Ndulula who recognises that young people in Khayelitsha need as many opportunities as possible because they have “not been given a chance to broaden their horizons due to the limitations that have been put in front of them”.

Bangani feels that the work they do is vital because they educate kids on where food comes from and considers this a basic element of education.

“The garden is a positive thing because it deals with important things like health and the environment.”

The gardeners were given an under-utilised spot which they had to clean up before being able to use it.

Bangani said the relationships with the learners have been amazing since day one. “They were curious about what we were doing. We told them we are going to be planting food and they thought we were crazy – we had to show them that food actually comes from the ground because they thought food comes from the shelves,” he added.

Miller’s presentation focused on how emergent/new food movements have pre-figurative visions of change in their systems of growing (food production) and being as gardeners and activists.

“Intimacy with the land is well chronicled as a transformative power. The connection with the earth has the power to change behaviours. But unlike the rural pastoralism of old, these new ‘earth-connections’ are not delinked from the urban environment but intimately interwoven with urban sensibilities,” said Miller.

She added that “earth (re)connections” is thus a new form of urban-based food movement, led by black environmentalists, that they would like to spread as an academic concept, a social justice initiative and a prescient form of food governance and body security (where the body itself is a stable ecosystem that is nourished, revitalised and an instrument of healing) in learning and gardening spaces.


A poem by Miller recited at her presentation:


I am a Coloured woman from the Cape, and we bring you colour

This is what we bring.

I was not dragged out from ‘under the bed’/onder die Kooi, to dance and sing for white people

I am descended of Khoi grandmothers and the Indian South Asian servant classes

Once again the patriarchs come to claim my body, this time the Khoi patriarchs

But I am a matriarch. I belong to the Earth and the Heavens, my body is not here for the claiming by any patriarch, Khoi or Other

I am a Coloured woman from the Cape, and I bring you colour

This is what I bring…