In the township of Tumahole in Parys, four women have made it their mission to provide their community with affordable and easily accessible, healthy food. Located on the outskirts of the Free State town, the group of women aged between 30 and 58 run a 1.5-hectare vegetable patch duly dubbed the Phahamang Basadi Food Garden.
The SeSotho phrase ‘Phahamang Basadi’ directly translates to ‘women rise up’. This is testament to what Meriam Mokgatla, Hester Bekeer, Julia Maoke and Selina Lethopo have done for their community.
“When we saw how our people were suffering, we had to do something. There is a lot of hunger in our community and they cannot afford to go to town to buy groceries, because it is too far,” co-founder Mokgatle explains.
The garden has had a positive impact on the community of Tumahole, which is marred by poverty and unemployment. Mokgatle says she wanted to share her love and experiences with gardening to make healthy, nourishing food available to alleviate the plight of her people.
“Growing up, my family home had a vegetable garden, my elders have always encouraged me to eat from the Earth, they taught me how to garden and this is where my experience stems from,” Mokgatle adds.
Mokgatle works in unison with three other women. Co-founder Hester Bekeer says that the garden, situated on the premises of a local school, was established in 2017 and boasts a variety of wholesome foods such as morogo, pumpkin, cucumbers and herbs.
The women sell the produce at reasonable prices to people in their community who cannot afford to travel long distances to town to buy healthy foods.
“We can provide for the community in the whole area, the people do not have enough taxi fare to go and buy morogo. It was important for us to start the project because now at least the people have access nearby to buy,” Bekeer explains.
Although the garden blooms today, the Phahamang Basadi group laments that attaining the land they farm today proved to be no easy feat. The women inquired at several local institutions to present their proposal to help alleviate the struggle to access vegetables in their community. This included the local clinic as well as a church in the Tumahole township. They were turned down time and time again.
Mokgatle says it was through sheer resilience and patience that the group of home gardeners were given permission by the Boitlamo Secondary School to farm the 1.5-hectare municipal land they currently use to produce their crops.
“It took five attempts for us to get permission to farm the land we have now. We tried applying for permission everywhere – the local clinic, the church. We just could not get land, but we did not give up. On our fifth attempt we got the land at the Boitlamo School.”
Armed with their bare hands and make-shift tools, the Phahamang Basadi Food Garden members say the first two years of making their dream a reality were very turbulent.
Mokgatle says they worked tirelessly to clean the municipal land located behind the school.
“We foresaw that we would have problems because we did not have the necessary tools to clean the land. The land was full of rubbish and it used to look like a dumping site. As it stands, we still have a lot of uncultivated land, and we still have a long way to go without a tractor to clean it.”
While they have faced many difficulties, the Phahamang Basadi Food Garden members say they will keep going, they say the tremendous amount of support that they have received from sponsors has encouraged them to expand their garden.
In April this year the group had the opportunity to showcase their produce at the Checkers Market Day in Parys. For Mokgatla, Bekeer, Maoke and Letopo the Phahamang Basadi vegetable patch is just the beginning of infinite possibilities. The group of women still have big dreams to feed the entire nation.
“The land we farm is quite a big patch of land, so our only wish now is to have a tractor just to assist us to farm there where we are struggling to clear the land with our hands,” Mokgatle concludes.