PARTICIPANT to FACILITATOR to COUNCILLOR: James Mowers, Pella - Oom James
In a Nutshell
Through his participation in SocioTech‘s MyFood initiative, James Mowers improved his pre-existing horticulture skills. The success of his food garden has been an inspiration to others and he has helped many, many of his neighbours to start their own gardens.
Inspired by SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods philosophy, he has a strategy for how to achieve his vision of community self-sufficiency and a strong Second Economy.
In the municipal elections of November 2021, Oom James was elected to serve as Councillor in his beloved Khai-Ma communities.
I am not from Pella but I love living here. I grew up in Thaba Nchu but my late wife is from Pella and from the very first time she brought me here to meet her family I felt a sense of peace and positive energy. That was in the 1980s and, even now, almost 40 years later, I am still amazed by Pella’s beauty. From the stoep at my house, the mountain looks like someone sleeping after a long day’s work. You can see shapes like a body and a face with a nose and a mouth and everything. I call it the Sundays Mountain because on the 7th day God rested.
I feel truly blessed being here. When I end my days, I hope to be buried here, because in Pella my soul found peace.
Don’t get me wrong, Pella is not perfect and never was. There have always been social problems, drugs, alcohol and so forth. In many ways those problems have increased over the years. When I first started visiting here, the people of Pella really looked after each other. My mother-in-law used to cook and send a plate over to a neighbor. And her neighbor would do the same. These days, I don’t know why we have become so much more divided and separate.
One of my goals is to promote that kind of spirit of mutual care that we had in the past, because I think it is the key to our surviving and thriving as a community.
My hope for Pella is that we can grow community support and expand it even beyond personal acts of kindness into an economic model that promotes business from Pella in Pella.
We have lots of people with talent and skill – plumbers, tilers, builders, dressmakers and so forth. My dream is that the people of Pella wouln’t have to go to Upington to shop or call in workmen from outside the area, but that they could get most of what they need here. What I am saying doesn’t just apply to Pella, it should include the whole Khâi-Ma region.
"Knowledge is very powerful when we use it to support and teach each other."
The concept of the Second Economy is central to my vision for the future. I feel strongly that money shouldn’t have to leave Khâi-Ma if we support what is grown and made locally. It’s about being self-sufficient. No one should have to go to Springbok to buy everything they need. If we support what we have and who we are, our businesses will thrive and people will be able to save money. Some of that saved money can be used to educate our children who can go and study, but then return to further promote growth and development in our area. They can be doctors and teachers and business people with bright futures right here in Pella. I believe that if we have that knowledge vested in our children, and that it is shared for all to benefit, the future can be bright. Knowledge is very powerful when we use it to support and teach each other.
I have recently been elected onto the local council and I see one of my roles as councilor as being to try and persuade others to do a local skills assessment before they employ companies and individuals from outside. See these tiles on my floor here? They were done by a local man and they are beautiful. When my house was built, I used local guys.
My dream is to have a training centre here in Pella because, even if the skills assessment shows that there is a need for training, let us also do that ourselves! The training centre would allow us to bridge the gap between people’s existing skills and where they need to be to get the task done. Maybe they won’t get the job this time, but next time they will be fully trained and ready.
The training centre is a long-term plan but there is a lot we can do even now. My view on life is that each of us should teach others. I can’t go to my grave with the knowledge in my head. I must share it. I taught my children that too. My daughter, Lelani Mowers, is an English teacher at the school here in Pella. She could work anywhere, but she came back to use her talents where they are most needed.
"... we need positive things to focus on."
All this is why I found engaging with SocioTech so helpful because their positive mindset suits my way of thinking. Like I said, I did do gardening with my grandmother as a child – it was my job when I came from school to go to the river, fill those drums, roll them back up to the house and water the vegetables. So, I knew the basics, but through Jabu and KG at SocioTech, I have greatly I improved my existing skills. I got knowledge about the right way to plant and the right time. I learnt how to protect my soil with mulch. I learnt how to make natural controls for pests from chili water and so forth. And then when the vegetable tunnel came, there was no stopping me… You’ve got to always think positive. Even during Covid-19 quarantine I was digging trenches in my garden. We couldn’t go out, but I got so much done at home.
I love my garden in so many ways. It saves me money on food, and it allows me to share what I have with others, and it tastes wonderful. Food tastes better when you grow it yourself in the right way, organically. Sometimes I just go into my garden and pick a carrot or a tomato or green pepper and chow it right there. I also like to cook – I worked in the kitchen at UCT for many years – so on a Sunday I like to make food so that everyone feels at home. My favourite thing to cook and eat is a smiley sheep’s head cooked with spinach from my garden. My dear late wife didn’t use to like it (I cooked her chicken or fish) but me and my grandchild we love it.
In recent months the thing that has got everyone excited in Pella is the BBL garden competition and a BBL football tournament. It is not just for Pella but for the whole Khâi-Ma region. As a community we really need this right now. There are so many things dividing people and Covid-19 has been so hard on our communities so we need positive things to focus on. We should be working close like one family and I see that putting the tournament together has helped bring people from the different groupings closer. The plan is that these sorts of community events should be held regularly, every few months and that they should be more than just a fun day, but rather promote the local economy.
"It's all about growing each other together..."
The plan is that it won’t be just the actual soccer that is bringing people together. Of course, soccer is great. In this region it is so important, but my hope is that the soccer leads on to other benefits. If we do it right, there can be all sorts of business that happens around the soccer tournaments and other community events. This first tournament we started small with a few people selling koeksisters and so forth, but if I look into the future I see such events could become market days that encourage trade among residents. It’s like I said, locals trading with locals can drive local production and local entrepreneurship. Its all about growing each other together and building a foundation for our local economy.
The soccer tournament in my mind is just a start. It is a way of showing everyone that if we can do this together, we can do bigger things together. Going forward the tournament will be quarterly, so that everyone gets something to look forward to on a regular basis.
Looking forward is something people struggle with here in our area, so it is a way of getting into that habit – of seeing the future as a positive thing. And I don’t just mean soccer and gardens, if we get this right it can be a way to say to ourselves and to government that we are leading progress, we are showing you how the future should look, not just waiting for government to show us the way.
In fact, we will show them how to do things…