FACILITATOR: Jabu Hlongwane

Jabu's Story

I come from Soshanguve but my grandfather lived in rural Mpumalanga and I used to go there in the school holidays. I have to say, I wasn’t a fan of village life as a kid. I hated waking up so early to take the cattle out and I was scared of those cows! When I went into the mountains with my cousins, they thought I was full of city boy nonsense! Looking back, I laugh at myself because all the things that I hated then or was frightened of, are the things that I love today.

Jabu Hlongwane

My other grandparents were in the township and they grew vegetables in their back yard. Spinach, onions, green peppers, tomatoes you name it, my grandmother had it. I used to help her with watering and weeding whenever I went to visit.

The wonderful thing was that when we were finished in the garden she would give you what she called ‘Sunday kos’. Some people call that meal 7-colours but she called it Sunday kos. A lovely plate piled high with different vegetables in all the colours of the rainbow. Even when it wasn’t Sunday, she put Sunday kos on the table. It wasn’t fancy, just healthy and delicious and made with love. Regular meals like that would be my wish for South Africans all over the country. That is what I am working towards.

I get excited when I see that we are changing lives. There are so many firsts along the road to success, but for me the most exciting moment is right at the beginning when the people we work with start to see their world differently. Even before they have started growing anything in the ground, I love seeing people start to grow new ways of thinking in their minds. It is that first step when people get the idea that you don’t have to rely on a food parcel or a SASSA grant. It’s when they start to see that you can make your own food with your own efforts and that if you plant your own food you won’t see poverty. That, for me, is the key moment. After they realise that, everything else becomes possible. Of course, there is a lot of hard work to come, but nothing is as big a jump as that first jump away from dependency.

"It is a calling."

This is not a job that you can leave at the end of the day. It is a calling. Often on days when I am not supposed to be working, I get a call and I don’t mind. I always try to help, because when you see smiles on the people’s faces you feel so fulfilled. It makes me so happy when people on the WhatsApp group chats take a picture of their plate or send a message saying ‘thanks to Jabu I am eating the Food Robot’.

I love watching the Phinda-Phinda process start to work. It is a good feeling when you see the people that we trained, have trained others. That shows me that there is a move away from dependency. They aren’t just waiting for Jabu to come back and do the work. They are not only making their own futures work better, but also feeling confident enough to be a part of change in other people’s lives.

Nothing is ever easy, but that is the way life is. For instance, with BusinessBuilders, people start growing, then selling, and then maybe they hit a challenge – for instance, maybe there will be a challenge of water – but, then there is saving, and then a borehole. And so, the business expands.

I know we have a long way to go and many people still to reach in South Africa, but one day I would love to take this SocioTech model into the rest of Africa. I see myself making change across the continent as well as change in our country.