Where the angels whisper

The apartheid system was inhumane, but some people have managed to dig very deep to find good in the dismantling of family structures.

When men from the remote rural Mdlankomo village in Mpumalanga had no choice but to leave the tourist dorpie to work in gold and coal mines, scores of women and children remained behind to face abject poverty and drought.

But instead of throwing up their arms in dismay, about 25 enthusiastic women decided to form the Sivukile Women’s Group.

“We wanted to help each other to cope with feeding our children because we all had no formal education and there were no jobs for us,” said Ntombi Maseko, a Sivukile member.

With no education and no technical skills, Sivukile members thought their only way to avoid malnutrition was to plant vegetables. But their “brilliant plan” failed when the vegetables died. Sivukile then embarked on a search for information on planting gardens.

“Our plants were dying of pests and we did not know how to protect them. Sometimes leaves would turn brown or look dead and we would not know the reason for it,” said Maseko.

Sivukile’s determination to survive saw them knocking on almost every door for help until they landed at the doors of EcoLink Centre near White River, 20km from Nelspruit.

The EcoLink Centre — affectionately called the Messiah by rural women — was established in 1985 to help the poorest of the poor acquire skills in organic trench-gardening, small-scale agriculture techniques, marketing, the sale of produce and advice on health and nutrition though their Earth Care programme.

Says Earth Care project manager Greg Vlahakis: “That we have been in the business of helping communities to help themselves for the past 16 years means there must be something that we are doing right. Our long-standing sponsor, Nestlé, could not have backed us for all these years if there was no progress.”

Some of EcoLink’s successful projects include small-scale farming and seed multiplication. Through these programmes, smallholders and subsistence farmers have been trained to optimise returns from their minimum inputs.

With EcoLink’s support, Sivukile has spread its wings to include chicken farming as the women now have enough land and a water tank from Nestlé on their premises.

“Behind every blade of grass is its very own angel that forever whispers, grow grow grow,” reads a poster in Vlahakis’s office.

He believes there is an urgent need to train Africans in farming. “What could happen if white farmers could decide to go on strike because of farm killings? Who uses maize as his staple diet?”

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