BBL PARTICIPANT: Eva Masha, Strydkraal, Sekhukhune, Limpopo
In a Nutshell
Since the 1990s, Eva Masha from Strydkraal community in Sekhukhune, Limpopo, has been implementing the SocioTech BBL methods that all of us learned from the late MmaTshepo Khumbane. Eva was the first person to dig and build her own underground rainwater tank, which is still functioning almost four decades later. Eva’s determination and success has inspired thousands of families across the country to take control of their own lives, just as she did back then.
When I grew up life was very hard. I was born in Moomane which is not good for farming. There is no river, so you depend on the summer rain. Here in Strydkraal, it is near the river, so it is possible to create irrigation systems and farm all year round.
Because of the poor farming conditions, my parents needed other ways to support themselves, so they made clay pots. As a little girl it was my job to find the clay and then to help with the selling. Some of the pots we took to places like Tafelkop and Groblersdal and sold for money, but most of the pots were part of a local barter system whereby our family received however much mabele (sorghum) would fit into the pot in exchange for the pot. Big pot, lots of mabele. Smaller pot, less mabele.
We supplemented our diet with plants and animals from the veld. In those days there were many different kinds of morogo to collect. Some we ate fresh, others we dried. There were also edible insects. We collected tjia (crickets). Sometimes we ate them straight away, just fried with a little salt. At other times my mother cooked them with gushe (wild okra). We also dried them and then ate them later in the year. They are full of vitamins. They sort of taste like chicken and are very delicious. I haven’t seen them for a very long time. I know that there are chefs coming from Johannesburg next week and that they are interested in buying those traditional ingredients. I am coming to meet the chefs next week because I want to sell moringa, but also because I want to find some tija to buy. Maybe one of my neighbours will be there at the market selling them.
I like tjia but I have always hated mašotša (mopane worms). I don’t like the way they move – too wiggly. I remember being really frightened when we harvested them because I don’t like that crawling motion they make. You collect in the early morning because they come down from the trees to get moisture. That way they are easier to pick up – once they are on the tree they cling and are hard to detach. We filled big buckets with them, put them into boiling water quickly and then dried them in the sun.
I married in Moomane in 1960-something but then we moved to Strydkraal because we were looking for a place where we could farm all year round. Because Strydkraal is next to the river we thought that would be easier for farming. It wasn’t so easy - even though Strydkraal is on the river we were still not close enough to use that water. When I first met Marna and Tshepo Khumbane in the 1990s, I was very depressed. My children were hungry. Watching children go to bed hungry is a terrible thing.
"I hope she is learning that if you work hard, and don’t listen when people talk nonsense or laugh at you, rewards will come."
Even in my depression I believed in the power of what they were telling me. I wanted change and I decided that this was how I was going to achieve it. I was the first person in my area to build an underground rainwater tank. At that time, Marna and MmaTshepo were experimenting with two different types of underground rainwater tanks. The ones like mine with cement blocks and plaster inside and the other ones with sponge (note: geofabric painted over with three coats of bitumen). Those turned out to be less good – they soak up the water and its gone. The ones like mine, up to today it is still working.
It wasn’t easy at first. When I first started digging my underground rainwater tank, people would walk past my house and laugh at me. It took me a long time because you need a large and deep hole to hold all the water you will need. Some said cruel things to me. But I built that tank, and it is still there 38 years later. It is behind my house, and I take everyone who visits me to see it. The visitors look and they nod and smile and say ‘well done’ but I don’t think anyone understands how much that tank means to me. That tank changed my life.
I went from being a person who thought she was too poor to achieve anything, to knowing that with these hands and these ten fingers I can achieve good things. With that tank I found that I could grow as much as I wanted. I could feed my family and do business. It was so wonderful realising that the amount I produced was up to me to decide. No one else. That pleasure that comes from feeling in control has never left me. I think my daughter Tshidi (she works in a big hotel in Pretoria) feels it too. My little granddaughter lives here with me, and I hope she is learning that if you work hard, and don’t listen when people talk nonsense or laugh at you, rewards will come. When I am working in the garden, I always say to my granddaughter that she should watch carefully because one day she may need this skill. Young people should know how to use the soil not money, money, money.
"I learned to value myself. Where once I felt fear, I now feel confident to speak. I feel that I can try things that before would have frightened me."
At the moment my garden has mielies, spinach, beetroots, onions, and China morogo. Everything grown without chemicals. When my family eat mielie meal, I grind it myself using the grinding stone that belonged to my mother who chose that stone off the mountain. That grinding stone came with me from Moomane and carries the imprint of my mother’s use and mine. I can grind different textures depending on what I want, and know that all the vitamins are still there. My freshly ground maize is the full package. You can give it to babies, and it is better than Nestum. Whenever my daughter comes to visit me, she returns to Pretoria with vegetables (delele, beetroot, China spinach) because she says the home food tastes better than shop bought vegetables.
In addition to the freedom from hunger I have had so many experiences. I learned to value myself. Where once I felt fear, I now feel confident to speak. I feel that I can try things that before would have frightened me.
"Those foods make your strong."
I went to places like Cullinan and Lesotho that were new to me. In Lesotho I was surprised to see them eating cat. I saw it with my own eyes! In fact, I tasted some. It tasted like fried chicken. They offered me horse biltong and I saw that they were eating it and they didn’t die, so I tried it too. Why not?
These days young people don’t want traditional food. They just want braai packs and fried chips. That is not good. We should be eating the way our ancestors did. Sotho chickens with morogo. Mabele and marula nuts. Those foods make you strong.
Like I said, I have known Marna for a very long time. Before there was SocioTech I knew her. Always she brings something new. This time it is the chefs from Johannesburg. She invited them to come to Strydkraal for a market next week. I think that they are coming because they are interested in learning about our traditional foods. Maybe if the young people see the chefs being interested in ancestral food, they will also start to take notice. Maybe if someone from outside says this food is good, they will listen and put aside their braai packs.