Growing up poor in South Africa, Phakamani Xaba helped his mother tend to vegetables. “We didn’t have enough time to go out and play, so our game was planting vegetables,” says Xaba in a new video from Perennial Plate. Today, he works with kids in KwaZulu-Natal, a rural part of the country, teaching them how to farm as part of the Thanda after-school program.
Out in the rurals, as the people in this video call it, systemic problems like poverty and HIV/AIDS can make life look pretty bleak. For many, moving to the city—to Durban or Johannesburg—is seen as the only way to have a chance at a better life, but the jobs don't always pay that well. One girl in the program was earning $33 a month when she went to work in Durban.
Instead, the Thanda program wants to help youths create opportunities locally. “I see myself as motivation to young boys and girls in my community, showing them the skills of planting,” Xaba says, adding that “it will help them see that they can stand up themselves and be better people in the community through their work and the production of their hands.” This isn’t about turning everyone into a farmer per se, but showing people that there are opportunities at home and that the community is worth contributing to and investing in.
Siyanda Mhulugu, one of the students, says he’s learned that you can plant vegetables, sell your harvest, and make some money “and that you can change your life considerably.” His dream is to be a musician, but he wants to be a farmer too, and he believes that growing food can help him achieve his greater goals.
“They can make life out of planting vegetables,” Xaba says. Life for people like Mhulugu. Life for the community itself.