A group of people who found themselves living in a municipal camp for the homeless has started an urban farming project in Durban’s inner city.
The Elangeni Green Zone grows and sells organic vegetables to leading supermarket Boxer Superstores and to members of the public. Spokesperson Mthokozisi Mathonsi says they took advantage of a programme offered by the eThekwini municipality to empower homeless people.
In a bid to teach basic skills to the 2,200 homeless people staying in the city’s 12 homeless shelters, the municipality is working with the department of social development to offer various training programmes, including an introductory computer and word processing course.
eThekwini deputy mayor Belinda Scott says they want to make Durban an inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable city.
“With continuous interventions and comprehensive plans to aggressively address homelessness in the city, we are also contributing to the realisation of the National Drug Master Plan which aims to reduce supply and demand of drugs for non-medicinal use,” Scott said.
Mathonsi said the members of the inner-city farm approached the municipality for assistance after deciding to start a food garden near the homeless camp they were staying in and subsequently identified a suitable plot of land.
The proposal was in line with the city’s aim of empowering the homeless and assistance was given to get the project off the ground. Today, spinach, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, mint and coriander are produced.
The 10-member group’s innovative thinking has earned them two additional pieces of land they will use to expand from their North Beach-based garden.
Mathonsi says: “We have received another piece of land from the municipality in South Beach to start another garden. Meanwhile, an NGO in Umbumbulu on the South Coast has also invited us to use its land.”
In addition, the gardeners have partnered with Boxer Superstores to increase the quality of their produce.
Elangeni also donates some of its vegetables to the city’s soup kitchens. Mathonsi says that the charitable action was borne out of knowing what it is like to go to sleep on an empty stomach.
“When the coronavirus hit in March, some of us who were working in part-time jobs found ourselves out of places to stay and out of food. When we first came to the camp with the homeless people, we realised how privileged we were and that we should try to contribute to their livelihood,” he says.
Homeless people in the city who want to learn basic skills can visit the municipality’s Safer Cities office or call 080 033 1011.
• This article first appeared in GCIS' Vuk'uzenzele