For these sisters gardening is a path to the future

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On a plot of land in Waterfield, Limpopo, sisters Samora (44) and Malebese (51) Sekhukhune live in a house rumoured to have once been occupied by former South African Prime Minister John Vorster.

Together, the sisters have created an agricultural enterprise called The Ruri Wellness Project with the aim of turning a subsistence farm into a wellness retreat.

Samora chuckles at the idea that one of the strictest adherents to racial segregation during the sixties and seventies may well be rolling in his grave at the thought of two black women making strides in a sector they’d have categorically been excluded from under his rule.

Whether the rumour is true or not, Samora and Malebese have bigger ideas on their minds.

The seriousness of their endeavour to grow the land from what currently exists as a subsistence farm into a retreat where anyone from the hurly burly of city life can find peace and wellness is underscored by the strategic, finely-tuned six-year plan they’ve developed upon advice from permaculture expert John Nzira.

For Samora, the project is deeply personal. “Working with the earth”, she says “has spiritual, economic, psychological and physical benefits.”

“Gardening is life and a passport to good health.

In 2012 four fibroid tumours were found in her body. When specialists advised her to undergo surgery to have them removed she flatly refused and chose instead to heal herself with the very herbs she grows on her farm today. After 18 months of treating herself with yarrows and burdock root – two plants known for their gynaecological healing properties – she returned to her specialists, who were thoroughly dumfounded by the results.

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“Three of the four tumours had been reduced to virtual non-existence”, she says.

Her sister, Malebese, who was by her side throughout this period, recalls, “It was then that we decided to start our project”.

Both sisters quickly became aware, however, that this would be no easy task. It’s no secret in the agricultural sector that many young farmers fail within months of starting out due to a lack of planning.

Malebese reflects on the pair’s initial struggles: “In the beginning we stumbled and stumbled and felt we were going nowhere. We were forced to sit down to think about better ways of moving forward. We decided to take things bit by bit. After a while we learnt that by making allowances for failure on a smaller scale we would avoid becoming as frustrated and depressed in the beginning.”.

Samora & Malebese Sekhukhune.

Currently, their garden comprises of a host of plants which they grow to sustain themselves – the first key component in the six year plan they’ve developed. As fans of companion planting (the planting of different crops in proximity for different reasons including pest control, pollination, maximum use of space and to improve crop productivity) they farm what they need for themselves together with what they intend to later package and sell for medicinal use.

For self-sustaining purposes, they grow pumpkin, lerotse (cooking melon), marrows, onions, basil, thyme and a variety of beans. In the same garden they grow yarrows and burdock root, which Samora continues take on a daily basis, as well as other herbs and plants with known health benefits such as turmeric, cayenne pepper and African potato.

On the working dynamic of two sisters, Samora is disarmingly honest. As a primary school teacher, she says, her sister tends to over-explain areas of farming she doesn’t understand.

She chuckles as she tells me, “We usually talk through any conflicts, but sometimes I just want to say, ‘Stop talking to me like I’m in Grade R!’”.

Malebese emits a surprised, hearty laugh at this, stating: “Yes, we our have conflicts. Samora is always coming with new and modern ways of doing things, whereas I am more traditional. But after we have worked things out, we have a good laugh about it”.

Overall, the sisters are a dynamic pair and their sisterly bond is palpable. Their rigorous, strategic approach to growing their business has begun to see significant gains. “Their first year goal”, says Samora, “to become fully sustainable in terms of 80 percent of food and medicinal requirements and energy supply by November 2019 is well on track”.

For Samora the personal turns political as her attention shifts to what she would like her own personal legacy to be when she finally lays down her tools.

“Ultimately, I’d like to reverse dangerous, malicious and misleading ways, to see growing your own medicine as the norm, to see more black people, more women return to the land – not just for economic purposes but for their own well-being.”

Echoing her sister’s words, Malebese adds: “Gardening is life and a passport to good health. We need to learn to stop just sweeping and sweeping our backyards and learn that we are able use these spaces to create better lives for ourselves.”

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