Nelly Bassily | February 18, 2008
At 72 years old, Phillipina Ndamane has no plans to slow down. Standing in her vegetable garden, she is surrounded by the produce that keeps her independent. Rows upon rows of cabbages, carrots, spinach, and broccoli are the key to her empowerment.In this community garden in the Gugulethu township, outside of Cape Town, Ms. Ndamane grows food that she couldn’t afford to buy. The garden is a sort of subsidy for her modest government pension. The vegetables help her to stay healthy, and provide food for her elderly sister and the nine children that she supports – grandchildren and orphans.
Ms. Ndamane is not unusual among community gardeners in the townships surrounding Cape Town. In fact, the average garden co-owner is a female pensioner.
At first, local communities resisted the idea of community gardens when NGOs tried to improve food security in the townships. But now people are clamouring to be part of the movement to grow vegetables on previously unused land. Hundreds of the gardens have sprung up around Cape Town.
Rob Small is a manager with an organization called Abalimi Bezekhaya, or Planters of the Home. He explains that there was a power struggle between men and women for control of the community gardens. According to Mr. Small, men were most interested in making money from the community gardens. Women placed a higher priority on being able to provide their families and communities with nutritious food.
In the end, women took over the leadership role. The land that Ms. Ndamane cultivates is part of a larger community garden owned and controlled by women. Shaba Esiteng is another co-owner of the community garden. She enjoys being able to share vegetables with those in the community who are not able to work, such as the elderly and people with HIV-related illnesses.
But the women do earn money as well. Each has her own private plot as well as a share in a communal plot. Vegetables grown on the communal plot are sold and the profits shared.