PARTICIPANT to FACILITATOR: Sibusiso Mbatha, Kathlehong, Gauteng
In a Nutshell
Through their participation in SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) strategies to stimulate personal economic activity, Sibusiso Mbatha and his family have learnt the skills to create, maintain and grow their urban farming business, and are diversifying into general retail.
Sibusiso was so inspired by the BBL programme, that he began to train his neighbours using the SocioTech philosophy and methods. At first this was an informal process, but he has now become an official SocioTech Facilitator.
I have always had very positive feelings about working the land. As a child in Nqutu, KwaZulu Natal, my mother had a food garden. She used that garden to feed our family and she also sold vegetables to create extra income. So, I associate growing vegetables with lovely childhood memories like eating peas straight from the plant and also the pleasure of being able to use the money that she made to buy meat and oil.
I know now that the way we were cultivating in Nqutu was not as efficient as it could have been. In those days we didn’t know about the benefits of having deep trenches, and we didn’t practice crop rotation. We were also using dangerous chemicals to fight pests. The wonderful thing about lifelong learning, is that there is always room to improve and move forward. Thanks to SocioTech we have managed to do that.
Over the years my wife, Sithembile, kept a vegetable patch and we had done some gardening, but we didn’t have any formal training, so when our municipal social worker told us about a horticulture class being run by SocioTech, we jumped at the chance.
My wife and I attended our first session with SocioTech in late 2019, and we have never looked back. As I said, we did already have a vegetable garden, but once we had done the training, we realized that we could improve our techniques in all sorts of ways. When the SocioTech facilitator came to visit our garden, he helped us to change almost everything. Thanks to that first horticulture training, our yields improved a lot.
We were so impressed and inspired that the next time there was training, I made sure that my brother-in-law, Ntobeko Khanyile, my 21-year old daughter Thobeka and my sons, 17-year old Sipho and 18-year old Thembelihle, were also present.
After completing the course and digging our trenches, my wife and I received our vegetable tunnel on July 20 2020. Since then both Sipho and Ntobeko have also dug trenches, and received their own vegetable tunnels.
"we realized that we could improve"
At the moment our family works from two main spaces; the garden at our house which has the green vegetables, and also another big field a little way off that has mielies, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts and beans. In winter we plant lots of Chinese cabbage, which is very popular with our customers. Especially with our Zimbabwean customers – apparently, they eat a lot of it in their country and it is a taste that they particularly love.
There is one Shona lady who buys from us in bulk, and sells it to her homies who are around her place. There are still challenges – there is a borehole near us, but we don’t have a pump, so water is scarce, especially in the winter months. Pests were also a problem at first, but thanks to the SocioTech training, those are under control. When people talk about pests they usually mean insects and our insect problem is under control, but our biggest ‘pest’ is actually the neighbours’ cattle, goats and sheep that graze around everywhere. I have managed to buy fencing to keep them out of the garden behind my neighbours houses, but we still need more for the other plot.
Another challenge is working out exactly what to grow to meet customer demand. Not everything we grew last year appealed to our neighbours. For instance, we had a big problem with eggplant. We had plenty of them because they grew beautifully, but people where I live are not familiar with this vegetable, so they didn’t buy many of them and they went rotten.
Every problem is an opportunity to learn and our production is very good. We never have to buy vegetables for our own family use, and we are selling into the community too. Some sales come by going door-to-door with a wheel barrow. Pushing is a mission, but we do it.
Thankfully, some other customers come straight to the garden. Everyone in our area says that our vegetables taste delicious, and that they also like that our product is cheap and convenient. This is not a rich community and our prices are very reasonable, so we do well.
"There is an amazing freedom that comes with not being afraid of the future"
I am always looking for opportunities to expand. There is a guy (Skhumbuzo Nkosi) with a vegetable stall who recently approached me, because he is wanting to buy from small farmers. I am hoping that in the new year we will do good business with him. I think working with him will allow us to expand the number of customers we can reach. I am also hoping that he might be able to take some of the vegetables that are less well known in our area. I am thinking that perhaps the eggplants that my neighbours didn’t want, are something that his customers might be more familiar with.
We didn’t stop with the horticulture training. My wife and children, my in-laws and I, all did the MyFuture training in early 2021. Only Sipho didn’t attend then, because he had school. We received our certificates in May of 2021. I was so inspired. The way the programme is structured really spoke to me. The more I learnt, the more excited I became about the potential for this philosophy to change our country. It can touch the hearts of people who are losing hope. When you lose hope and you have no faith in the future, life seems very frightening. That is when people can easily fall into alcohol and drug dependency. There is an amazing freedom that comes with not being afraid of the future.
"He understands that his life is in his hands. He can control it."
"Through such processes we can improve community health, reduce crime, and prevent all sorts of social problems."
I think that what makes this way of training special is that SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) sees everyone – not just the richer people – and finds ways to empower us all. If we start with the basic truth that no one needs to go hungry, and that everyone has the potential to work, then we can really create a better future. And through such processes we can improve community health, reduce crime, and prevent all sorts of social problems.
While I was a student on the BBL MyFuture course, I started updating any participants who missed sessions, because I couldn’t stand the idea that they were missing out on this valuable knowledge. Charles Bisimwa, the SocioTech facilitator who was facilitating the classes, noticed that I had this passion for the training, and he started asking me to go with him to other learning groups. That is how I started my journey to becoming a facilitator. I had never taught before, so for a while, I worked with Charles and now I have been allocated my own learning groups to coordinate.
Working with my mother all those years ago taught me so many life lessons, and I try to create a similar environment for my sons. My youngest boy, Sipho, is only 17 years old but he already has his own space with his own trench beds in our family garden. Even at his young age, he sells vegetables from those beds, and he is turning into a skilled entrepreneur.
During COVID when the children were not going to school, I got Sipho to do the BBL MyFuture training. It was a very productive and educational use of his time. You can see that that he has really listened and taken in the lessons, because Sipho isn’t spending the money he makes from selling vegetables from his trenches.
Most of the money he makes, he is saving, because during school term time, he uses that cash to buy stock of sweets and snacks to sell at school.
Sipho is making business that began with his working the soil, and has diversified into a whole separate stream of income.
I am very proud of him. He understands that his life is in his hands. He can control it.
All my children know that their future is what they make of it. That makes me so happy.
Proverbs 28:19 says that the one cultivating his ground will have plenty of bread, but the one taking up worthless pursuits, will have his fill of poverty. I am looking forward to a world where we all try to live by that.