BBL PARTICIPANT: Makhosazana Hazel MtshalI, Tsakane, Gauteng
In a Nutshell
Makhosazana Hazel Mtshali lives in Extension 10, Tsakane, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. Through SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) programme she has added to her horticulture and bookkeeping skills. She experiments with a diversity of creative and business initiatives to multiply her family’s income streams. Beautiful handmade cardigans and stunning bespoke shoes, healthy herb products, tasty treats…
Her fruit and vegetable enterprise with her husband, Bheka-Makhosazana, is thriving. She has a clear, comprehensive plan for future business growth and profitability. Her children are benefiting financially and nutritionally from her efforts, and learning from thier parents' example. She says…
Roses are my passion. When I was a little girl, growing up in KwaMashu, my mum liked to grow roses. I have inherited that love of roses. I am absolutely committed to vegetable gardening and I appreciate where it has taken me, but it is roses that speak to my soul.
If I dream about where I want my life journey to take me, I see a farm with vegetables stretching out for many kilometers into the distance. I know that the vegetables are how I will support my children and my children’s children going on into the future but, in the foreground, I see a farmhouse with a shaded veranda and a garden full of roses. I hope that when I am an old lady I will be sitting on that veranda, sipping lemonade made with my own lemons or wine made from my own grapes, admiring my lovely roses.
The key thing is to work out how to get from where I am now in a shack in Tsakane to that farmhouse veranda and those roses. I think that the answer to my prayers lies in my trench beds and vegetable garden tunnels.
"The answer to my prayers lies in my trench beds and vegetable garden tunnels."
My journey to vegetable gardening started with an NPO, Mduduzi Memorial Organisation, that my family set up in 2004. We decided to help people who are infected and affected by HIV because we had been impacted directly by this terrible disease. My brother, Mduduzi Mtshali, died that year and it was so difficult in those days. Remember, there were no HIV medicines available then and my mother (who had a nursing background) said to us: ‘Let us mourn in a positive way.
Let us help other families that are experiencing the pain that we have known and through our work we will honour our loved one. So, that is what we did. The NPO has gone from strength to strength and grown because there is a great need. Since 2006 we have been partly funded by Department of Social Development.
Right from the start of the NPO we grew vegetables because we wanted to provide monthly healthy food parcels for orphaned, vulnerable children. Our first vegetable gardening was before we had training and it went okay – things grew and we got food to the needy – but when I look back now I think that early success was all about beginner’s luck! We didn’t know how to prepare soil or irrigate to save water. We knew nothing about mulching!
Our first crops were pretty good. I think that can be attributed to two main reasons. First, it was our sheer passion to succeed. Second, the soil here is relatively good, so even before we knew about soil preparation things grew quite well…
We came into contact with SocioTech in March 2016. My husband, Ben Kubheka, was walking past one of our neighbour’s shacks and he saw the BBL facilitator installing a SocioTech tunnel there. My husband got talking to him and pretty soon came home very excited, telling me that we were dismantling part of our shack so that we had space to put up a tunnel. I wasn’t pleased. Not at all. But in married life you have to know which battles to pick and I could tell that this was not one I was going to win…
Before we could get the tunnel, we had to do some training with SocioTech. One of the main things we learnt, was to that there are ways to work efficiently that take less time and effort. Good trench beds and mulch mean you can do things once and see your garden flourish rather than endlessly working and watering and wondering why you don’t make progress.
We had that first 6-meter tunnel for a few months and pretty soon we could see that this was really working well. The first thing we did was spread into our neighbours’ yards on both sides. Even that was too small and we had to find more ground. So, now there is one garden where we live and also a plot a few minutes away. Where we are now we have 37x 12 meter long trench beds with tunnels, and eight trenchbeds without tunnels – half of them are 20m and the other half are 30m long! I have fruit trees (some of which I grew from pips) including figs, pears, apples, lemons, peaches and grapes.
"They know that if you start small and work hard you will get joy and pride and rise above!"
"I still want to hone my skills to make sure that everything is perfect."
We grow so many different vegetables depending on the season but at the moment there is spinach, beetroot, eggplant, chilies, green peppers, sweet potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes and lettuces. We also have fruit like strawberries and watermelons. Herbs like parsley, rosemary, mint and thyme. I have recently started with ginger and garlic. And of course, in addition to the vegetables and fruit, I have my beloved roses (mainly white and yellow) interspersed with lilies and ferns and succulents.
I feel good about the fact that we are a local supplier selling fresh food at reasonable prices to a poverty-stricken area. If people buy from us close to where they live, they don’t have to spend money on transport to get to far away shops. It also works well for us because selling locally reduces our need to pay for storage, packaging and transport.
We also still give a portion of the produce to the NPO. Every month my mother distributes 100 food parcels and I am proud to say that my vegetables are in each and every one of those parcels.
I adore my roses but everything in the garden must pay its way. My plan is to make even my roses work for their place in the garden – I have started experimenting with rose water and fragrant oils so that I can build my business even further. The fragrant oils are part of an idea that I have to add value to everything the garden produces. I love making jams and pickles and I see that there could be a market to sell those too.
I still want to hone my skills to make sure that everything is perfect, but I have a dream to create a little shop to sell the treats that I make from my garden. I also have a passion for handwork – especially making beaded shoes – so I want to include those in my future shop. I am not rushing into anything but I think in about 2-years I will have this aspect of the business up and running.
Our involvement with SocioTech has changed every aspect of my life and the life of my family. My husband Bhekani and I were unemployed and now we are running a small but successful business. My children, 14-year old Sphesihle and 12-year old Aphelele, have learnt a respect for nature and have gained an understanding of how a bonded family can work together to change their future. They saw us starting small and gradually building to where we are now. I see it in their school work and their general attitude to life: they know that if you start small and work hard you will get joy and pride and rise above.
We have expanded in stages and been sensible, not rushing into anything. Right now, we are seeing if we can manage the plot before we move on to something as big as a farm. We aren’t spending money unnecessarily. I still live in a shack and I am not ashamed of that. I am proud to be putting all the money we make back into the garden. We are literally ploughing it back into the business!
According to my calculations we will be able to reliably supply larger businesses in the next 18 months. We still have a long way to go to get to the farm with the veranda but it is getting closer every day. In my dream I can already smell those beautiful roses…