In the late hours of the evening in the township called Khayelitsha in Cape Town, a desperate Thozama Sikiti went down on her knees and started praying to God to free her from the chains of poverty.
The 35-year old never worked a permanent job in her life and she was tired of the uncertainty that came with jumping from job to job. In a hopeless prayer Sikiti uttered the following words, “God show me what I should do, and I’ll do it faithfully,” and God gave her an epiphany to start a garden in her backyard.
She woke up the next morning and bought 10kgs of compost and a tray of seedlings and started planting spinach in her backyard garden. She didn’t have a plan, nor did she have funding, but she was determined to change her fate.
“I would spend my money on 10kg of compost and a tray of seedlings and I started planting spinach in my back yard. I did that religiously and in my first harvest I started selling my spinach door to door to my community. I even did that in my second harvest,” she exclaims.
Sikiti’s backyard garden grew and so did her list of customers. She realised that she needed to add other vegetables to her backyard garden, but she didn’t know anything about agriculture. So she decided to enrol in various courses that would teach her the nuts and bolts of gardening.
“I went to go do a three-day course in a garden centre in Khayelitsha called Abalimi Bezekhaya where I was taught how to do gardening. I was also taught about the Cape Town soil in terms of what it needs for you to be able to farm successfully on it. Then I went to do a six-week course at Stodels Garden Club in Somerset West where I was taught soil preparation.”
After completing her short courses, she started planting green peppers, potatoes cabbages, spring onions and carrots in her backyard garden.
‘God show me what I should do, and I’ll do it faithfully’ -Thozama sikiti
Sikiti says the costs of maintaining her garden became too much and she had to come up with a plan to generate more income to support her new business.
“I came up with an idea to start making natural and organic homemade hair products. My hair products are made from essential oils including aloe vera juice, tea tree, rosemary, lavender, and castor oil. I did all my research on the internet,” she says.
“My hair products became a success in the community, and I would take some of the profit I made from selling the hair products to buy seedlings and compost,” she says.
She spent the rest of 2019 selling her vegetables door to door in her community in Khayelitsha, while teaching young disadvantaged children about gardening.
In 2020 she shifted her focus to the older children who were high school dropouts. “I wanted to give them a skill that they could use to create a living for themselves since they are not working. I told them that they can plant their own backyard gardens to make an income and even to eat. I hated seeing them sit on street corners,” she says.
Unfortunately, the national lockdown happened and some of her projects came to a standstill. “I had to change my strategy and, luckily, I got land from the Cape Town municipality in June. I saw it as a sign to venture onto bigger things,” she says.
She started planting spinach on her 120 square metre plot in Khayelitsha and that was her focus for the months that followed. “I planted spinach, because spinach grows in all seasons.”
Her plot is called Thunariso, combining the names of her three children, Thuso, Naledi and Nariso. It is situated on a piece of land in Khayelitsha that was allocated to members of the community who wanted to use farming to earn a living. Sikiti says she had to sign a five-year lease agreement with the Cape Town municipality to occupy the land and she only pays for water.
Along her journey Sikiti was faced with financial challenges, so she approached the Western Cape provincial agriculture department for funding.
“They asked me to fill in forms so I could receive financial assistance, but that has not happened. But then I was approached by Ayanda, who works there and offered to assist me while I was waiting on the funding from the department. He supplied me with gardening equipment that included rakes, watering cans, compost, and spinach seedlings.”
Luckily, her natural hair products were also flying off the shelves, so she also used her earnings to buy seedlings and compost for her new plot.
“I managed to plant more spinach in the vacant areas and then I approached three boys and one lady to assist me. I told them my story and explained to them what I wanted to do. I also explained to them that I would not be able to give them a basic salary since my business is not yet successful,” she says.
“They were optimistic to help because they told me they were just sitting at home unemployed because some of them just lost their jobs, so they saw this as an opportunity.”
Sikiti and her team planted spinach and cabbage on their plot and their business grew from strength to strength. Even members in her community know that she is their most trusted spinach supplier, she says. They supply spinach to churches and communities in Gugulethu, Langa and Khayelitsha. However, she also wants to plant green peppers next week, since it’s their season.
The Ubulumko High School matriculant declares that she has dreams of going commercial and even starting an agriculture academy.
“In five years’, time I want to have an academy that will teach the youth how to start their own gardens.”
I also want to employ social workers who will help children who use drugs and teenagers who are victims of teenage pregnancy.”
She says agriculture is a life skill that can sustain them for the rest of their lives. Her own incredible story bears witness.