Community veggie garden a lifeline for Marikana orphans

A newly revived community food garden is now feeding the kids in an orphanage that was started in the wake of the 2012 Marikana massacre

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Among the beneficiaries of a North West community vegetable garden count the children who have been left orphaned after their fathers were gunned down by the police during the Marikana massacre in 2012.

These children, who were also growing up without their mothers, had nowhere else to go until the Maumong Orphanage was established to take care of them in the mining town turned upside down during a nationwide miners’ strike. Seventeen miners were gunned down at a mine owned by Lonmin with a further 78 being injured.

Today, eight years after the tragedy that was compared to the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, Maumong is home to 50 children. They are provided with a home filled with love, care and safety, and guaranteed of at least three meals a day made from the vegetables grown in the orphanage’s backyard garden.

Maumong was established at a vacant building availed by a local traditional leader. For many years it struggled to find its feet despite great support from the people of Marikana, a town still known for its impoverished mineworkers who mostly live in shacks.

‘Cutting dead leaves’

Ester Motse, who grew up in the area, tells Food For Mzansi that she became involved with Maumong last year after realising that the orphanage needed urgent help. She immediately took charge of the garden, not realising that this would be a moment of turnaround for the battling institution.

“After we saw that the orphanage was struggling, we decided to intervene by reviving its dying vegetable garden. Because we live in the community, we could see that the food garden was not doing well, so we started to assist by planting (vegetables) there,” says Motse (31).

The garden initially failed because of a lack of access to water. Motse says water supply in Marikana can be quite challenging, especially during the cold winter months.

“We would like to grow enough food for all the needy children in our area and provide food for an additional 300 children.”

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Since its revival, the garden has helped the orphanage a great deal. “Before, they were forced to buy vegetables from the shop, but now there is no need for that. It’s easier now, they can now just come and fetch it from us.”

Motse describes the reviving of the food garden as a demanding task. “We used to collect water in buckets from the homes nearby,” she says. They had also invested their own money in cultivating fruit trees, which would not grow.

A little help goes a long way

Thankfully, Shoprite heard about their initiative and intervened. Most of their gardening challenges are now a thing of the past, says Motse.

The retailer provided the Maumong team with a water tank, gardening training, trees and seedlings as part of its drive to fight hunger across South Africa. Since 2015, Shoprite has partnered with 119 community- and 494 home gardens to the benefit of more than 27 000 people.

“We learned a lot during the training workshops,” says Motse. “It’s going to help us grow more food and it’s so important that we now have this knowledge.”

She adds that they are especially grateful for the 10 000-litre water tank they received, which has contributed to a reliable water supply to their garden. The tank came with a pump that runs on petrol as well as the necessary piping.

Ester Moatse and her team are currently undergoing gardening training, to ensure that they maximise the potential of their vegetable garden. Photo: Supplied

“I’m also thankful for the modern farming techniques they have taught us. Currently we are using a mulching technique where we cover the ground around the crops with grass cuttings to keep the moisture in the soil.”

The training workshops were attended by a number of people who are now working full-time in the garden. Also, 30 community members were trained and inspired to now plant their own vegetables at home.

Describing the vegetable garden as one of the most rewarding experiences for her team, Motse says they have big plans to increase the number of children the garden is currently able to feed.

“We would like to grow enough food for all the needy children in our area and provide food for an additional 300 children. We also want to expand the garden, so that we can actually start selling to businesses in the area,” she says.

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