BBL PARTICIPANT: Sphiwe Mdakane, Swaneville, Mogale City, Gauteng
In a Nutshell
Through her participation in SocioTech’s Broad-Based Livelihoods (BBL) strategies to stimulate personal economic activity, Sphiwe Mdakane has obtained business skills to grow her food gardening and livestock businesses.
I have been here in Gauteng for 13 years, but I grew up with my father and grandmother in Emondlo in KZN. I still miss it there every day. I still go home whenever I get the chance. My grandmother’s garden in Emondlo (and the way she thought about using land and providing for her family) still inspires me with my own garden.
When I was a kid, almost everything we ate came out of my grandmother’s garden. You name it, she grew it and cooked it – cabbages, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, beans, mealies, imbuya, pumpkins. Everything she cooked was simple and delicious. With vegetables that come straight from the soil you don’t need fancy cooking because they all taste so good. Just a bit of salt is all you need.
When I think about the way we ate when I was a child, nothing was wasted. Everything went into the pot. Nothing was wasted. When we ate pumpkin, we ate the leaves as well as the flesh. When there were beans in the garden that meant that we had two crops – the leaves for imifino and also the beans. I didn’t understand how lucky I was to have all that. I took it for granted. I helped in the garden when I was asked but if I didn’t love doing it. If my grandmother asked me to collect water, I did it, but I didn’t spend my time learning all the things I could have. I regret that now.
For a long time, I didn’t think about gardens or food production. When I finished school, I came to Gauteng and for 9 years I worked in retail. Only slowly did agriculture start calling me back. At first it was chickens – those hardbody, traditional chickens. I still have a few of those – they taste delicious but my biggest market for those chickens is the sangomas. They come and buy them for their rituals, and they always pick specific ones depending on what they are trying to do.
"...I can do that and still take my garden seriously as a business."
Then I added pigs – those are my favourite. I would like to get into piggery in a big way. That is my dream. There is good profit. They taste great. For a while the vegetables I grew were just for me and my family. Then when I started to get surplus, I began donating to vulnerable people in my community. We have a lot of child-headed households in this area, and I feel that it is my duty to support and protect them.
I still do both of those things. I am committed to feeding my family and to helping the child-headed households but the thing I learnt from the MyFuture training with SocioTech is that I can do that and still take my garden seriously as a business. I can focus on making a profit and donate. So, this year has been about trying to take myself and my business seriously.
My vegetables sell well. I now have employees taking those vegetables around the neighbourhood and selling door to door. What I want to do now is work out how to make my offering stand out. How to have a unique offering is my thinking now. Everyone growing vegetables has the same stuff. That same spinach. And it is also that same spinach that is in Checkers. If I want to succeed, I am going to have to be unique and different.
"You can't grow a business without experimenting and taking risks sometimes."
I have been thinking about ways to do that. Perhaps the answer is marketing – I want to try selling through social media. I have also been wondering if the answer might be to start growing different vegetables. Maybe those old-fashioned pumpkins – the ones that my grandmother grew in KZN – maybe I should get seeds from home and grow those. You don’t get those very often in town, but there are lots of people like me who grew up eating them and I think they would buy them. I want to try that as an experiment – I have lots of land here, so if I put a little bit aside to grow traditional vegetables it wouldn’t be terrible if it wasn’t a success. You can’t grow a business without experimenting and taking risks sometimes.
I have had my SocioTech tunnel for about 3 months now and it has made a big difference. I can see the difference because I grow spinach inside and outside my tunnel. The leaves inside are so much greener, so much bigger, so much more delicious. Outside the tunnel is nice but inside is gorgeous! Bigger, greener leaves are what brings customers and profits.”
The thing about working with SocioTech is that it is about more than training. It is about relationships. Ongoing relationships – they don’t just train and then disappear. If I have a problem, I know that I can call Charles and talk it through. So, it is about relationships with the people who trained me, and relationships with people I trained, and also the relationship with myself. I have learnt things about myself that I didn’t understand before. For instance, I have learnt that I really like teaching. With SocioTech, you are required to train three people in order to qualify for a tunnel, but I like it so much that I have kept going. I did my three and then I did more. So far, I think I have done about 20…