Social engineer and founder of the school-based community project Ikhaya Kulture Garden in Khayelitsha, Xolisa Bangani is transforming young lives through the power of nature
Written by Anna Trapido
Photographs by Bruce Tuck
I grew up moving between Khayelitsha and Willowvale in the Eastern Cape. Whenever I was in Willowvale, I worked in my mother’s garden – I was not very enthusiastic about gardening, but I had to help out because, back then, we children would get spanked if we didn’t lend a hand. Apart from this, my grandfather used to take me up the mountains to show me wild animals and indigenous medicinal plants. It was during this period of my life that I developed an appreciation of the beauty and power that resides within the natural world.
A DIFFERENT PATH
Even with these experiences, my child self didn’t think gardening or farming would be part of my adult existence – I used to love taking batteries apart and designing little generators. Although some of my inventions worked and others didn’t, the transfer of energy continued to intrigue me. I used to say that when I grow up, I was going to be an electrical engineer. Sadly, that didn’t work out because there was no money for tertiary education. That part of my brain is still running, though. I believe my fascination with a sustainable lifestyle comes from the same intellectual source – at its heart, it’s all about energy and understanding how to transfer it. The energy in a dream is never lost, but sometimes it changes its form.
PLANTING THE SEED
In 2010, I started a home garden and became completely obsessed with it – I dreamt about it each night and visualised it every day, which inspired me to write poems. I also volunteered at Abalimi Bezekhaya [a non-profit, micro-farming training organisation in Cape Town] and through that work, I met Mama Mabel Bokolo. She became my mentor and polished my passion for gardening. At first, people thought our friendship was unusual because of the age difference, but we had a real meeting of minds; she is amazing. It was in talking to and working with her that I started seeing gardens as a link to our culture’s past, present and future. In gardening, there is life on so many levels: culturally, spiritually, artistically, nutritionally economically, medicinally and politically.
A SPECIAL CONNECTION
In 2013, I was part of a group of young people who started Ikhaya Kulture Garden [a registered non-profit
We realised young people tend to think gardening is an old person’s task – or something the elders make youngsters do. So, our plan is to make gardening cool. I also saw a gap to showcase gardening as an artistic element. That’s why, through poems, I can communicate the importance of food and the reasons why it’s imperative to grow your own; I knew this would catch the youth’s interest. In Khayelitsha, we have lots of spoken-word events. Poetry is cool and young people love it, so that is why I do it.
A GROWING COMMUNITY
Our philosophy is: “In order to change the world, we must change the composition of the soil.” Therefore, we are transforming our area’s sandy soil to loam soil [a fertile mix of sand, silt and clay]. This is a serious and hard task, but we aim to show the youth that everything is possible through the powers of nature. We also do other activities like upcycling, hiking, baking and organising food events. I believe that, over the past few years, we have given young people hope and changed their mindset that food comes only from grocery stores. Together, we have planted and nurtured a food forest.
ISIKHOKELO PRIMARY SCHOOL, IDADA STREET, SITE C, KHAYELITSHA, CAPE TOWN; IKHAYAGARDEN.WIXSITE.COM; [email protected]