We first met Colin on a photoshoot for PLAAS. With his friendly smile and enthusiasm for farming, we couldn’t help but follow him to his home in Gugulethu to photograph his lush vegetable patch. We were so blown away by his neatly laid out, abundant garden and chicken and goose coops on that first meeting, that we knew we had to go back to record his story
"I first say, you must give love to your plants, because they won’t survive if you don’t give them love.”
We had his name and a photograph but we had lost his contact number, and that is how our search for Colin and his story began.
We went back to Abalimi Bezekhaya Garden Centre, where we first met him, to ask maBokolo and her apprentice, Ludwe if they knew Colin. It was only after we showed them his photo that maBokolo said, ‘Oooohhhh, Manelisi!’ – we had only learnt his English name until now! After a second meeting and a breakfast interview after his long night shift, we have a story to tell. His is a story of love, a story about the juggling act of work and finding time to do what he loves and it’s a story meant to inspire.
Manelisi means last born in isiXhosa. He says that in his culture, the last born is always left the family home; ‘they explained it that the last person didn’t get enough love, because the parents are too old, so he gets the house’. This is the case for Manelisi, who has been the owner of a home in Gugulethu for ten years since his father passed away. When he was growing up, Manelisi helped his father in the garden. But it was only after his father had passed that he fell in love with the act of gardening.
Running a garden presented challenges in the beginning, and many of the first crops failed because the soil wasn’t fertile enough. Manelisi explains the process:
“I started to go to the farms in Lansdowne Road and pick up fertilizer, started to get my land ready, and then I started to plant. I planted potatoes but they weren’t nice, they were so small, but I just kept doing and doing. I sometimes changed the shape of the garden etc. I started watching what other people were doing, and I asked my neighbours, men from the Transkei, for advice: like in October when the apple trees blossom is when you must prune them.”
At the same time, Manelisi bought a few chickens, geese and pigeons. Using the manure from his chickens to fertilise the soil, he had started the ‘big farm of his dreams’. Manelisi’s end goal is to buy a bigger plot for his garden, two goats and to positively influence the youth by encouraging them to ‘wake up in the morning and check on the garden and water the plants’ instead of turning to drugs. Manelisi is working hard to achieve this goal. His challenge is to make enough time to spend in his garden and with the youth of his community, while working a full day job.
Manelisi uses the manure from his chickens to fertilise the soil of his garden.
Whenever he can, Manelisi teaches his neighbours how to utilise the space in their own backyards to grow vegetables, and he often hands out seedlings to get them started. Manelisi has learnt how to garden from many sources; he attended a training course offered by Abalimi Bezekhaya, he learnt from other gardeners in his area, he even collected articles from the ‘How to Grow Food’ sections of YOU magazines and created a resource book.
When asked, Manelisi gives potential gardeners a very simple bit of advice: ‘Love your plants, because they won’t survive if you don’t. Everything in this world has ears; you must love everything that you touch’.
Loving and talking to his plants is exactly what Manelisi does, and he has reaped many edible benefits from doing so. One of the first things that he picked from his garden, for his family to eat, was a pumpkin. It was as he showed his wife, that he proudly said, ‘I am going far now’.
Even though Manelisi is struggling to find time between work to do what he loves, he has hope that his knowledge will help others and that he will one day have a big farm, two goats and a host of community youth that he has helped to keep off the streets.