Feed The Others

Tyisa Nabanye

by Alistair Tamlit

Urban Gardening, or Urban Agriculture, has in the last few years become something of a trendy topic within a variety of social circles. For young and privileged hipster types it could be seen as a fashionable pastime. For academics and those concerned about food security, Urban Gardening is often seen as a solution to the recent global food crises and a way to improve the resilience of cities to such shocks, which are likely to become increasingly frequent in the face of climate change. In addition, Urban Gardening offers a way to reconnect to our natural surroundings and take back some personal control in our predominantly corporate food system.

Recently I have been researching agriculture within Cape Town and whether it offers any alternatives to neoliberal capitalist development: the ideology that dominates South Africa and much of the world today. During my research I became somewhat disheartened to find that many of the agricultural projects here are led by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The result of this is that much of the agriculture taking place within Cape Town is characterised by a top-down approach, with organisations thinking mostly inside the box and sometimes seeming to blame the victim by suggesting that poverty comes from a lack of will or a bad “mindset”.

Over time however I began to see more of the complexities of the situation and the alternative viewpoints around agriculture in Cape Town. The final interview of my research was with Tysia Nabanye, which means “feed the others” in Xhosa. The Tysia Nabanye project describes itself as a “a comprehensive working model of sustainable farming and design for the local community.” Tysia Nabanye is tucked away on the slopes of Signal Hill and is part of an almost 20-year-old squatted community. Given the painfully slow progress of land reform in South Africa, this project could be considered part of a movement to do “land reform from below” by using occupations as a strategy. The project has only been in existence since September 2013, but when I visited in February it was flourishing with a wide range of crops and aesthetically beautiful; all of which has been achieved with virtually no support. For me this was one of the most inspiring projects I came across in Cape Town and it gave me a lot of hope about the possibilities linked to Urban Agriculture. In hoping to spread some of this inspiration, here is part of the interview I conducted with Mzukisi, Vuyolwethu, Unathi and Masixole from Tysia Nabanye.

So this is a Permaculture project, what does Permaculture mean?

Permaculture is a design strategy that mimics nature into the garden and it uses natural resources, convenient technology, people and animals and plants in order to create and enhance the ecosystem.

What’s the most important aspect of this project?

We want to take initiative, work with the land, provide food for ourselves and inspire other young people to do the same.

What visions do you have for this project in the future?

We would like to have like fruit trees and like abundance in terms of food and just to enhance this place. Like getting rid of alien plants and plant more indigenous kind of trees and shrubs, that are suited for this environment. And hopefully get the rest of the community members who are also squatting here to be involved in the future hopefully.

Are the other residents here interested so far?

They like it. They are inspired because after we’ve started this some of them have started their own gardens but I suppose they are busy with their own lives. They don’t really have the time to be involved like we are, but they are liking it, they are interested and they have been inspired by it.

What’s the political situation like in agriculture right now?

At the moment they are trying to support some subsistence farmers but it’s more focused on big industrial farming, which supports the idea that food is a commodity, when it should be the other way around. Every community should have gardens so that they don’t depend on buying food so that they can eat.

What do you think the City Of Cape Town has as a focus in terms of development?

Their focus of development is based on capitalism I can say, but there are small moves into like eco stuff, like the green movement and but it’s kind of slow, like everything is focused on like big corporate companies. And the infrastructure is mostly not friendly for poorer people it’s always up-market.

What do you think the main problems are for people who want to do farming?

The main problem is land; acquiring land and getting like start up capital. Also, the lack of inspiration because, although it’s now becoming popular and gardening is a cool thing to do, it’s still in it’s infancy.

And what are the main problems you face?

The main problem is that we don’t own the land. We’re sort of here illegally. The other problem would be that we are not being funded at the moment. We’ve sort of become resourceful; we use whatever we have.

What role do you think smallholder farmers have in the development of Cape Town?

I think it would be to inspire the people you know to start these initiatives, because we have a big problem of poverty, so if people start planting their own food, they could generate income and they could also feed themselves. If the small farmers who are doing it can be models of that working, other people will see that this thing works, and they can get inspired.

Do you think there are enough interventions from NGOs to fight poverty?

They are trying to an extent yes, but not on a big scale. I think the challenge is what you said earlier; that this kind of development is focused on capital. I think that’s also one of the big challenges.

So, what do you think, instead of capitalism, is the alternative we need to look for?

Well to be more social, because if we are social then we can reduce poverty because people would start these initiatives and start bartering, trading and sharing, you know, and sustaining themselves. And you know when you hungry you can’t even think properly; you do foolish things. At least if you can have something to eat then you can start thinking better.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

With the farm we would like more exposure with people. We have a Facebook page and a website, but it’s still in the process of being built.

So you want people to know about it and come see the project?

To come see the project and we would like support as well in terms of resources and money if possibly but mostly resources to take it further. And in Cape Town, as I was saying, I would like to see the small farmers and the social groups getting bigger and interacting together and just making it beautiful.

The Tysia Nabanye farm can be found on Erf 81, Military Road, their facebook page is HERE, where you can find regular updates. Be sure to visit and support these guys in what ever way you can.

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