In the heart of the bustling concrete jungle of Johannesburg lies the residential neighbourhood of Hillbrow. When we imagine this inner-city suburb, we tend to paint a very bleak picture. Marred by violence, drug abuse, prostitution and destitution, this place is often referred to as a slum by some.
But one urban farmer, Sibongile Cele, is slowly trying to change the negative narrative associated with the neighbourhood. Cele has managed to create a business, Mcebo Wealth Rooftop Farm, which not only brings a splash of colour to Hillbrow, but also seeks to change the food systems in the inner-city.
In this week’s Farmer’s Inside Track podcast episode, Cele joins co-founder of Food For Mzansi Ivor Price and editor Dawn Noemdoe in studio. In their conversation, Cele gives insights on the motivation to creating her sustainable vegetable business on a rooftop in Hillbrow.
She says that growing up in Soweto her father played a key role in the inception of community gardens in the area. Her passion for changing food systems, she says, stems from her father’s influence.
“The passion that grew with us as children growing up in those community gardens in Soweto carried us. It is something that you always take for granted. Then, as you grow older you realize that there is passion.”
Throughout her discussion Cele also reminds us that farming in its true essence is a task that tests resilience of the spirit.
“It takes me back to purpose!” she excitedly says. “When you’ve got purpose and vision to see things change, there is tenacity in finishing strong and being the difference that you want to see in the community.”
A former auditor with Deloitte, Cele started the initiative two years ago. “Seeing the rooftop producing was a wow moment – to finally see the vision that we have been looking at. It has gone up and it’s been implemented, and we are bringing the change in the inner city.”
As an urban farmer Cele has hopes to utilize as much space as she can. She says living as a “landless South African” one can look up to the skies – the buildings in Joburg – to realize your agricultural dreams.
“The future is seeing households taking the food issue very seriously. To say ‘Can we grow our own vegetables in our backyards?’ and make the difference,” she says.
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