When you visit Vuyo Tsika (72) at his home in Delft on the outskirts of Cape Town, he’ll gladly tell you the painful story of how he lost his eyesight, taxi business and home, yet rose stronger and more determined every time.
Losing what he cherished most could have been enough to keep Tsika down and from ever trying to get back up again. But he refused to count his losses and wallow in self-pity. Instead, he created a thriving vegetable garden in 2014 in the heart of a notorious crime-ridden community.
“I’ve lost a lot, but I’ve gained more. I feel free and happy when I am in my garden. I’m there every day, sometimes the whole day. Being in the garden keeps me fresh and healthy,” Tsika tells Food For Mzansi.
Tsika’s roadside garden along Aberdare Road flourishes with peas, spinach, carrots and mielies he grows in neat garden squares. There, he also tends to pigs and chickens.
Every morning, Tsika takes his white cane and thumps his way towards his vegetables and livestock. “My day starts around 09:00 when I go to the garden. At first someone used to help me get there, but now, it’s just me and my white cane…”
When he gets there, Tsika feels his way around the garden to make sure everything is still where he expects it to be. “I know my vegetables and I know where they are located. Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I don’t know. I know very well. I even teach people in my community how to garden.”
Years before growing vegetables was even a thought, Tsika had pretty much everything he cherished taken away from him. First, in 1988, he experienced an eye infection that caused sudden blindness in his right eye. Despite surgery, the severe eye infection spread to his other eye, leaving him completely blind.
“I was crying every day. Every day!” he recalls.
“The thought of losing my eye made me sad.”
When Tsika lost his vision, the former Langa to Sea Point taxi driver and mechanic was forced to stop transporting Cape Town commuters. Not only did he lose money, but also the means to feed his children and grandchildren. “I was worried about how we would survive when I could not see. I just thought, what am I going to do. I need my eyesight to be a taxi driver and mechanic.”
And as if that was not enough, locals started taking advantage of Tsika’s loss of vision. “Can you believe it? My own colleagues stole my vehicles? I was devastated. I had to support my family with disability grant money.”
Unfortunately, even more heartache awaited the pensioner. Before living in Delft, Tsika lived in the Tygerberg Hospital’s hostels and before that, Langa.
In 2005, Tsika’s home in Langa was ravaged by a runaway fire that started in the Joe Slovo informal settlement and left thousands of people displaced. “The fire (in the settlement) started on a Saturday morning. I heard about it the day before, but it didn’t bother me much because the fire was in Joe Slovo and we stayed far away from it. We thought the fire was under control, but it wasn’t. It spread to our area and others too.”
The art of getting back up again
Tsika and a few others were then relocated to Tygerberg Hospital’s hostels where they awaited formal housing. “I was just thinking, ‘what am I going to do? I’ve lost everything. I’m blind, I can’t walk on my own and I can’t provide for my family’. But then I thought, ‘I must get back up again and do something’. That’s when I thought of starting a vegetable garden to provide for my family.”
“Can you believe it? My own colleagues stole my vehicles? I was devastated. I had to support my family with disability grant money.”
The Tsika family remained in the hostels for five more years where they helped their father cultivate peas, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, beetroot, carrots, and tomatoes on a small patch of land behind the hospital. When they finally moved to Delft, Tsika decided to continue his interest in growing vegetables.
“I love that garden too much. Sometimes my kids ask me, ‘Daddy, why don’t you stay at home today?’ I tell them, ‘No, I don’t want a headache after listening to all your stories,’” he laughs.
Tsika is proud of the fact that he has even since accumulated an accredited gardening certificate along the way. He received food gardening training from Soil for Life, a Cape Town based organisation that teaches people how to grow their own food.
When he is not selling his veggies, he hands the produce out to people in the community. “They can see. They walk, but they don’t want to do anything with their life. I don’t understand. They are just sitting at home. Then they come to me asking for spinach. Can you imagine?”
Although the big-hearted Tsika enjoys growing, he longs for support. The township gardener says he uses half of his grocery money to sustain the garden. “I want to register the garden as a community project, but I’ve had no luck. The agricultural departments tell me they can’t help me because I don’t own the land.”
Tsika hopes for the garden to have a bigger impact on the Delft community, “But I feel like I’m constantly knocking on the wrong doors. All these years I’ve been enquiring about this land, but nothing. I’d like to go forward, but there’s not much I can do. For now, I’ll continue doing what I can.”