PhD candidate teaches kindness through farming

Science PhD candidate and vegetable farmer Mawande Sigwinta says talent in the townships is often under-utilised. With his food garden and community arts hub he's working to change that

Not to be Missed

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Blink twice, and you are likely to miss it passing by. A food garden barely the size of two tennis courts on the outskirts of a bleak, but buzzing Western Cape township.

The garden, sprouting a range of vegetables from green peppers, cabbages, red onions to lettuce, is named i-Afrikayam Farm. It is situated in Asanda Village in the Strand after being founded by Mawande Sigwinta (29) in 2019.

What Sigwinta thought would be a simple garden project supplying fresh veggies to local communities and inspiring young people to participate in vegetable farming, turned out to be much more than that.

The garden, which serves as a beacon of hope to this community, has since its establishment mutated into a hangout spot for both young and old. Here, visitors can freely showcase their artistic calling, have fun, or simply escape the buzz of eKasi.

During my short drive to Sigwinta’s garden, a hint of concern gradually creeps. In Asanda Village, danger is always lurking in the shadows.

Mawande Sigwinta’s mother, Pumza (right) and sister, Nosiphiwo (left) helps him out with access to markets and the running of their catering service. Photo: Duncan Masiwa/Food For Mzansi

On numerous occasions, members of this community have been at war with one another over illegally connected electricity points. There is also the occasional run-in with local police due to illegal land grabs.

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However, as I pull up the gravel driveway, Sigwinta’s radiant smile quickly calms me. “Welcome to my baby,” he says, referring to the garden, as he opens the gate.

ALSO READ: Dreamers take hands to turn dump into food garden

Why start a food garden in eKasi?  

“I started i-Afrikayam to inspire young people to start their own projects that would have a positive impact on the community, while at the same time reaching their dreams,” Sigwinta passionately explains.

In the townships, he says it is common that talent is not utilised. “The problem is, young people think opportunities will fall out the sky.”

Sigwinta wanted to show youngsters that sometimes they would need to take the first step in order to launch their dreams.

As a boy, Sigwinta grew up in a community where there was often little motivation to succeed. There was barely someone that he could look to for inspiration.   

‘If you want to bring change into a community, there must be a change of behaviour within yourself first.”

However, in addition to restoring hope in eKasi, Sigwinta hoped that the garden would teach people self-sustainability and self-reliance.

Many people do not know how to sustain themselves, he says, and therefore are highly dependent on external sources, like government grants.

Sigwinta always knew that he would do something great with his life. This belief he carried with him throughout his school years and tertiary education. He holds a post-graduate qualification in chemistry, and was recently accepted by Stellenbosch University to do his PhD.

Changing fortunes of troubled community

While slowly and carefully pulling out weeds to not disrupt the soil, Sigwinta states that those who visit the garden often reveal to him that they feel at home here.  

“They say it reminds them of their homes in rural Eastern Cape.”

Mawande Sigwinta believes agriculture is the restorer of ubuntu. Photo: Duncan Masiwa/Food For Mzansi

“Many people now realise that when you want to bring change into a community, there must be a change of behaviour within yourself first. You must be willing to sacrifice and invest your energy in what you want,” Sigwinta explains.

Most days, the young farmer works with boys and girls between the ages of 12 to 14.

They are trained in soil preparation and planting. Some of the children have started cultivating their own veggie gardens at home with seedlings from i-Afrikayam farm.  

The garden recently collaborated with an organisation called Women for Change to help women gain skills to make them more employable. Apart from growing food, i-Afrikayam is open to the public as a creative outlet.

Participants of the Women for Change organisation working in the garden. Photo: Duncan Masiwa/Food For Mzansi

The food garden hosts regular poetry sessions and jazz evenings. There are even the occasional talent and drama shows, as well as birthday parties and corporate meetings, Sigwinta says.

“We also have a non-profit company called Impilo yeAfrika which focusses on running soup kitchens for the community clinic and establishing food gardens at local schools through government funding,” he explains.

In addition, they also offer a catering service. Visitors have a choice to either eat at the garden or have their meal as a takeaway.

i-Afrikayam looked into catering because a lack of access to markets affected the garden. “It’s not easy to penetrate formal markets,” he says. “So, when we struggle to sell the produce, we cook it and make meals that we sell to the community.”  

ALSO READ: Garden detention sparks learners’ interest in food gardening

‘Agriculture teaches people to be kind’

For Sigwinta, agriculture is deeper than food.

“It teaches people resilience. Agriculture teaches people how to be kind. Imagine having a food surplus, as a farmer you would rather give that food to someone who needs it as opposed to using it for your compost,” he says.

Sigwinta believes agriculture is the restorer of ubuntu and looks forward to contributing towards whatever change is needed in his community.

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