It is an eerie thing to drive through an industrial district in South Africa full of abandoned and decommissioned factories. This was our experience when recently visiting Mandeni.
Driving through the town of Mandeni, you see what appears to be thriving neighbourhoods with modestly built middle class homes and a good infrastructure of shops and services. As you take time for a closer look, you also see many young and middle-aged men wandering the town or just sitting around in the middle of the day and you begin to realize that all is not as it seems…
Mandeni is the urban district primarily servicing the Isithebe Industrial Estate. There has been much hope for development of this area. However, the competition from offshore manufacturers in China and other areas of Asia has resulted in many factories closing down and leaving workers with few employment options. On our visit to Mandeni, we drove through the Isithembe Industrial park and were impacted by the many abandoned Industrial buildings that were lying derelict. Our passenger and guide, Mr. Dlamini, shared his story of being laid off from a shipping container company that used to make containers for all of Africa, Europe and North America. The company has now shut down manufacturing operations in South Africa due to competition from Chinese manufacturers.
Nosipho Kumalo, the wife of a local church leader and a woman of transformational vision, invited us to Mandeni. Nosipho founded and runs a faith-based NGO called, ‘Home of Hope’ in a very poor rural area called Nyoni. We first met Nosipho and the Home of Hope team at a Farming God’s Way training last year in October. The Home of Hope (HH) group was especially keen to learn all they could at that training. We met them again in early December, at a Christmas market hosted by Grace Family Church. The HH people were proudly displaying fresh produce for sale in support of the NGO! Their display was abundant and very well organized. They were incredibly happy to see us, and thanked us again and again for what we had taught them in October. What they learned was clearly making a huge difference in their garden, and we wanted to find ways to cultivate the friendships that were being birthed.
Mandeni is a town about one hour north of Durban nestled among tree plantations and sugar cane farms, and located on major railway and road transportation routes. Mandeni has grown and become established as a result of the presence of many manufacturers and processing plants in the area, as well as its proximity to King Shaka International Airport. The biggest employer currently is a paper manufacturer called Sappi.
On a beautiful warm winter day in June, we left Amanzimtoti after breakfast and made the almost 2-hour drive to Nyoni, which is about 30 mins past Mandeni. We liaised with Mr. Dlamini in Mandeni and he kindly gave us directions the rest of the way. Mr. Dlamini attends the same church as the Kumalos. We drove through a network of winding, gravel roads to get to Home of Hope. Circular groupings of Zulu-style rondavels dotted the hills on either side of our view from the vehicle. The golden winter grass lined the valleys for miles. We were welcomed jubilantly by Home of Hope and about 40 women from Nosipho’s community. A few of the leaders even sang and danced for us! Across the road, Nosipho and her husband have built a wonderful complex where they live with a beautiful house and other useful buildings.
This personal visit enabled us to get an idea of Nosipho’s context and the challenges she faces in fully experiencing her own abundance off the land. The most prominent sight at their location was a huge vegetable garden running the length of their front property line. The garden was neatly arranged with detailed rows and a clear attempt at following plant spacing. Mulch had been collected and carefully placed around the plants. We were thrilled to see all that Nosipho had accomplished, and Dan immediately began helping her with next steps on improving the garden, including increasing her mulch cover. After our introductions to the Mandeni area, we realized what a huge impact Nosipho could have passing on Farming God’s Way skills to her community. We are told unemployment rates are especially high in that area.
One of the most significant challenges faced by Nosipho is that they have no access to running water. This same water situation would affect almost everyone in the area unless their properties were close to the river. All of the water for the home comes from rain barrels that collect water off the roofs. During the winter dry season (from May to September), there is very little rainfall in Kwazulu-Natal. Local children are paid R25 ($2.5 CDN) a barrel to walk the distance to the river and collect water for the garden. What a logistics challenge that must be and a huge added cost! We could clearly see how beneficial mulch application on her garden would be in that it provides such excellent moisture retention. With a 100% mulch cover, Nosipho would only need to water the garden once, or at most twice a week.
While in Nyoni, we also had the incredible opportunity to meet the beneficiaries of the HH activities since they had organized an open day. The women are learning crafts and spend many hours creating baskets and other items for sale. Nosipho expressed how much the ladies would benefit if they were able to learn life-changing cultivation skills.
Nosipho served us a delicious lunch of boiled meat and vegetables grown from her garden. Even more generous was a gift of amadumbe (an indigenous starchy tuber) and sweet potatoes for us to take home. We recently shared a blog on the Farming God’s Way biblical key of “What you sow, you reap!” Nosipho epitomizes an effort to sow generously, and we know she will see an overflow from everything she invests. Nosipho is a generous giver! She is a woman leading the way in changing the mindsets of many who prefer to live idly waiting for a handout. We are trusting that, as she walks this journey of holistic transformation, she will see her influence and resources grow. Pray with us for her growth and protection in everything she does. Pray for the ladies at Home of Hope, that they would model Nosipho’s example. Pray for this tiny little community to impact the whole Mandeni area in a powerful way!