Pretoria - Retired nurse Gay Lorraine Mfeka, 72, has turned a dumping site into a vegetable garden in Montana, north of Pretoria, just behind a factory opposite her residence.
Hailing from KwaZulu-Natal, Mfeka moved to Pretoria in 2016 and upon retiring, moved in with her daughter. She started a small backyard garden, but was not satisfied with it because it was small and could not accommodate all her plants.
“I started early in January because I was home. I decided to find someone I could talk to with regards to this space. I did not even know who to contact, but I saw two young men from the factory coming to clean this space.
“I approached them and they said, ‘We always clean this space, but we think it’s better if someone puts it to good use, that would be best’.”
Mfeka said it was a big dumping site with huge piles of dirt and it took several loads with a van to clean it all up. It was then agreed that she could use the space to plant vegetables.
Mfeka planted corn and went to visit home in KwaZulu-Natal, but when she returned the management of the factory was looking for her.
Her corn had grown very tall and was providing a hideout for criminals.
“The corn plants were very tall. They thought criminals could climb their wall easily without being seen, something I had not thought about.”
However, Mfeka was allowed to continue planting, but only shorter vegetables. Now her garden consists of a variety of vegetables, including different kinds of beans, peanuts, spinach, chillies, brinjal, spring onion, sweet potato, green pepper and carrots.
Mfeka plans to use the chillies to make a chilli sauce and sell it. “I have spinach from Zimbabwe called Mancove and another one called Chumuliya.I also have sugar beans, and in the middle of the garden, it’s peanuts, which take six months to grow.”
Mfeka said the neighbours and everyone around the area were very supportive and kind. “They supported me when other people did not.”
Her love for gardening started at a young age as she was staying with her grandparents and would work in the fields before going to school.
“Before going to school, we would work in the garden. They were selling everything in the garden at a market.”
Mfeka loves spending time in the garden and watering her vegetables.
From 8am to 2pm, she cleans her garden and feeds the birds.
“I planted sunflowers so that the birds can feed on them and not my plants. I tried everything to chase away the birds, but that only worked for two weeks, so I decided to feed the birds. I feed them in the morning and in the afternoon; they know when to come.”
She works in the garden all by herself and is very protective of it.
“Some youths promised to come and learn more from me, but they never came. But you would find that when they need something from the garden, I give it to them. I know that one day they will help me.”
Mfeka considers the garden her full-time job and finds it therapeutic.
She said she was not worried about suffering the same fate as Djo BaNkuna, known as the “Cabbage Bandit”, who planted vegetables on the pavement outside his house.
The Tshwane Metro Police Department in November withdrew the case against him, having previously served him with papers for contravening the city’s by-laws by obstructing pedestrian movement. He had ignored an order to pay a R1 500 fine for refusing to remove the vegetable garden from the pavement.
He had taken to Facebook to detail that metro police officers threatened him with arrest for creating the vegetable garden on the pavement in front of his Theresapark property in Pretoria North.
Tshwane Metro Police Department spokesperson Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba at the time said the “urban farmer” was issued with a fine of R1 500 for obstructing a space reserved for pedestrians. “Mr BaNkuna does not own this land and can’t decide to use it for agricultural purposes,” he said.