News / Africa

Johannesburg Rooftop Garden Aims to Fight Poverty

A rooftop garden in Johannesburg, South Africa
A rooftop garden in Johannesburg, South Africa
Solenn Honorine
South Africa’s smallest province, Gauteng, home to both Johannesburg and Pretoria, has grown rapidly in the last decade.  The 2011 census showed that an extra million people now live in the province, putting a new strain on housing, services, and competition for jobs.  The strain is hardest on the poor, who don’t often have enough to live, never mind eat healthy.  But one local non-governmental agency (NGO), Thlago, has launched a pilot project to set up organic vegetable and herb gardens in some of the last remaining free spaces in the area: the roofs of downtown Johannesburg. 
 
A heavy metal door opens up the stuffy corridor of the African Diamond building onto a sea of iron, bricks and pipes.  A few steps up a metal fire escape leads to the top of the five-story building.
 
Forget the recent storm that knocked down the green netting protecting the crops from hungry birds; the garden built by the Thlago cooperative, of which Tshediso Phalane is vice president, stands lonely but proudly on downtown Johannesburg's skyline.

“It looks so perfect because once you go to the rooftop you're thinking you'll see the cement," Phalane says.  "But once you get here, you see the green vegetables, and it's organic.  You can see health."

Rows after rows of old tires have been filled with nourishing earth and sprout the result of months of tender care.  Spinach, beetroot, onion, parsley, celery, kale, and, in this warming South African spring, the hatching of sweet fruits: strawberries, lemon, figs, grenadilla or grapes.
 
Half a dozen people, all of them migrants to the city, are busy scraping the earth and watering the plants -- a surprising occupation in downtown Joburg, says Phlalane.
 
“Because the idea is: get a job. And the only way to get a job is to work on a factory.  But now we are trying to change the mindset by saying: look, you have skills from the homelands [rural countryside]," Phalane says. "Why can't you utilize that skills on the rooftop and then see what it is we can come up with."
 
A young mother, Bonyume got this job through the city's social services.
 
“You must take care of it like a baby.  Because they're our children, they must grow nicely," she notes. "Like your child you have to bathe it every time, like this also, we are taking off all these things so it's nice and fresh."
 
“I'm gonna heat my oil, put onions, lots of onions, green peppers.  Then I'll put spinach, salt, I'll stir, put my Knox cube [gelatin], then I make my pap on the side, because I don't have money for meat these days since it's the middle of the month, but still I don't go hungry.  There's plates on the table," Bonyume says.

She adds that the job changed her and her son's lives.
 
“If you want vegs on the side, healthy food, you just come, once it grew, you just come and take it, tik tik tik.  Even if you get two beetroot, you can always get healthy food," she says.
 
Doreen Khumalo,  chairwoman of the Thlago cooperative, says her program not only can do a lot to improve people's feeding habits, it also promotes self-reliance for people who, too often, have lost the confidence to take control of their lives.
 
“I love garden too much, I love nature," admits Khumalo.  "I'll never buy anything with nature, because you can make everything.  Even in a building you can plant, in the rooftop you can plant, in the balconies.  In this barrel you can plant 152 vegetables, different ones.  You can plant lettuce, beetroot, carrot, spinach, everything! You can feed 12 people in one family.  So never say you are hungry, because you can feed yourself."
 
Khumalo says her garden produces enough to feed the 50 tenants from the African Diamond building.  Twice a week, they can buy the products of her garden at a cheaper price than what is available in supermarkets: for example, 10 rands, or about $1.10, will buy a bunch of spinach that can feed eight people.  

Her ambition is to extend the partnership she created with the affordable housing company, or Afhco, that lent this rooftop to her NGO.
 
“They have 69 buildings.  If you plant the 69 buildings the city will be green.  Everybody would eat healthy,” she says.
 
Khumalo adds that each building rooftop can feed 50 people, and costs about $16,000 to set up.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid