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Building character and community

By Thembelani Mkhize

I read somewhere that “if you follow a crowd you usually go no further than the crowd”. Your energy is fuelled by the next person’s desire to achieve a goal that even they are sometimes not sure of. The first question you should ask yourself in any situation is: “Who am I? What role do I play in this game we call life”.

Growing up in the township has never been easy. It’s a ghetto and, as history tells us, nothing was ever meant to be easy in a ghetto. We often lose ourselves within the chaotic everyday life of drugs, crime and generally deteriorating health standards, but that doesn’t mean we don’t grow. Sometimes the struggle builds character, the same way compost or manure makes a plant grow stronger. It’s a complex process of destruction and creation all happening at the same time.

Precious stone

Above and top, locals enjoy what’s on offer at the Mpophomeni Farmers’ Market. The market is supported by the Iimbewu Foundation. Pictures by Thembelani Mkhize

Think about it like this: a diamond only becomes a precious stone after the pressure exerted by the Earth for millions of years turns it from a lump of coal into a highly refined, desirable item.

Last year I was fortunate enough to be part of the planning committee for the Mpophomeni Farmers’ Market, powered by the Iimbewu Foundation. For the past six months I’ve learnt about the farming and agricultural industry from people in the group. My experiences have included weed eradication in a sugarcane plantation at kwaSwayimane, planting potatoes in the heat and hard sands of Ixopo and falling off a horse on a hill in Mpophomeni.

As an author and an artist I speak for most of us when I say we are quite lazy when it comes to manual labour. We prefer to use our minds, constantly trying to find a way to make things easier.

Farmers, on the other hand, prefer to wake up before dawn to start their daily tasks, be they harvesting or general maintenance. They often say the sun will catch up with them because their day starts before the light from its rays touches the soil in the garden.

Business mentorship

The Iimbewu Foundation, launched officially in March 2017, has grown to become one of the most active self-funded organisations in the Msunduzi region. Its services range from business mentorship to social clinics and education, to name a few.

So after a while we adopted the farmers’ lifestyle, along with Bongane Masema (executive member of the foundation and its financial advisor), Senzile Madlala (founder) and a few helping hands from family and friends, once in a while.

By the same writer: Driving change, step by step

We wake up every two weeks on a Saturday at 4am (come rain or shine) to set up stalls and tents for our resident farmers, a space for our children’s area, and a picnic area for people who want to enjoy some good food and music. We make sure everyone’s table has a sign, tablecloth and sufficient coverage. Most of the time this means moving a table 10 times on Senzile’s orders.

A fun space for the kiddies to play.

The whole experience has taught me a great deal about persistence and determination, and I believe that this year we will only get better at what we do.

The Gerard Bhengu Gallery and Museum: A step back in time

Starting something new is never easy, but like I said before, struggle builds character. So we will observe, we will learn and we will innovate, because that is what Iimbewu does.

The year ahead looks tough, but at the Mpophomeni Farmers’ Market we believe we are prepared for the challenge.

● To find out more about the market, email


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