Tsakane Ekurhuleni

BBL PARTICIPANT: Rirhandzu Mushwana, Tsakane, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng

In a Nutshell

Through her participation in SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) strategies to stimulate personal economic activity, Rirhandzu Mushwana from Tsakane has acquired agricultural skills and applied this knowledge to creating a food gardening business. She has also trained many of her friends and neighbours. 

She says…


I have always been a food gardener. I used to help in my grandmother’s garden in Bergesdorp Village, Tzaneen. We grew all those traditional Limpopo-style vegetables – matàmbala, tindluwa, those multi-coloured, old fashioned mielies, timanga (peanuts). We used to grind our own pap which tastes so much better than the kind of pap we buy in the shops these days. When I think back to that lovely dikgobe (stamp mielies and peanuts and dinawa beans), my mouth waters. 

My grandmother taught me never to waste anything. If there were beans growing that was two plants because it was the actual bean and the leaves. If there were pumpkins we made recipes with the leaves and recipes with the actual pumpkin – and best of all those recipes where you cook the young pumpkins and the pumpkin leaves together. Delele (okra) leaves were made into a green relish to have with pap and also made into tea. That tea is good for joint pain. I still make it if I have had a long day working in the garden and my knees are painful. 

We used to collect and cook with wild plants too. There was a recipe for bogobe porridge with motsukubele (a plant that is like a very sour wild tomato). It grows even here in the township and when I see it, I still pick it and cook it for my kids. I want them to know about those wild foods from their heritage. 

For a long time after I left Limpopo I didn’t garden. I came back to it when times were very tough. I remember that we would go to bed without eating and I would lie awake worrying that there was no money for transport to get my children to school. Gardening can free you from that fear. It puts food on the table and if you sell what you grow it can put money in your purse too. `There is a sense of peace and pride that comes from being tired from working hard and knowing that things are better at home because of it.

"I am just saying let us wake up, stand for ourselves and work hard to create the lives we want."

I got my tunnel about 3 months ago and it has made such a difference. It is very depressing when you see birds eating your crops. Now that I have protection my crops are big and delicious with rich tastes and bright colours. I am starting how to plan the next stage in my business. Now I sell on a small scale to my neighbours, but I want to grow this business and sell to supermarkets and local stores. I am thinking perhaps forming a cooperative is the right way to go so that we can sell in larger amounts. The problem with that is the potential for some people to do more work than others. That can create tension. I am still trying to think through how to move forward, but I am confident that solutions will be found. 

When I first met the SocioTech team, I already had some basic skills because I had done that gardening at home with my grandmother. The training took me to the next level. Now that I know about soil preparation and irrigation my garden is looking beautiful. I feel strongly about giving back and passing on that new knowledge. Part of what makes this SocioTech system work is that we train each other. I have now trained over 30 people. Most of those I have trained are in Tsakane, but some are from further away. I trained someone from Thokoza recently. I always stay in touch with people I have trained. I help and monitor so that they can more forward through problems. It is so lovely when people I trained come back to see me and I can see how their lives have changed for the better.  

The thing about training and mentoring is that you can only help those who can help themselves. No one can do the work for another person. With these tunnels of ours, they get distributed to those who have put in the effort and shown that they can work hard. Sometimes poverty can cause people to get lost and confused in their thoughts. Worrying all the time can cause a person to lose focus. They say things like ‘we are not working and that is why we are hungry’ but I say to them that while they have minds to think and hands to garden there can be food and food business. I am not judging, and I am not saying that it is easy. I am just saying let us wake up, stand for ourselves and work hard to create the lives we want.