Guerilla gardeners are tackling hunger

Neighbourhood Farm.

Motivated by a desire to provide free food in Khayelitsha, a group called the Ujamaa Collective took possession of a neglected piece of land that had become an eyesore, cleared it of rubbish, and established a communal veggie garden as a model for other communities to follow.

Without permission to occupy the site, the Ujamaa Collective identifies itself as a guerrilla gardening initiative.

“Whoever is hungry has the right to harvest food from the garden for themselves,” says Ujamaa Collective member, Nkosi Gola, citing a University of Cape Town study that more than 50% of people on the Cape Flats go to bed hungry.

Ujamaa, a Swahili word meaning familyhood – similar to the South African term ubuntu – was adopted by Tanzania’s first post-independence leader Julius Nyerere. Ujamaa asserts that a person becomes a person through the people or community.

The Ujamaa Collective was formed in 2014 and consists of 11 members who collaborate with other groups. .

Ujamaa does not have corporate support and raises funds through community campaigns and contributions from individuals.

“We want to demonstrate how people can work together to develop and maintain food gardens for the benefit of the community without making money being the motive,” says Ujamaa member Tsakani Sibanda.

Ujamaa’s starting point is that food is a primary need but that it has become “a privilege to which some people have access and others don’t,” says Mr Gola.

“Everyone should be able to eat, and the only way to make that possible is to make food freely available and in abundance.”

Another Ujamaa motivation, adds Mr Gola, is that “we want to do things for ourselves. Community gardens are a way towards realising a dream in which people can do things by themselves for themselves”.

“Community gardens help to bring about social cohesion and enable people to share experiences in what to plant, when to plant, how to plant, how to water and how to save water. We invite everyone to join us and we will assist them wherever we can.”

Ujamaa is also looking to the next generation by starting a children’s gardening competition. “We asked them ‘where does spinach come from’ and they said Shoprite. Now they know it comes from the soil.”

While the food garden is Ujamaa’s main project to date and also acts as a gardening awareness and education centre, the group has helped to establish about five other community gardens as well as household gardens.

However, water shortages and restrictions have made it difficult for people to maintain and sustain their gardens, and Ujamaa is seeking ways to help people to recycle and conserve water by, for example, mulching their gardens.

It has already established a pond to save water at the site.

Households who establish food gardens are encouraged to make them accessible to others by, for example, planting them on outside curbs. “We want them to feel that it is not just their garden but the people’s garden,” says Mr Gola.