Who exactly is Tshwane’s pavement vegetable planter known as ’Cabbage Bandit’?
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Pretoria - The so-called “Cabbage Bandit” – Tshwane resident Djo BaNkuna – this week became an instant hero for his defiance after police fined him for planting vegetables on the pavement in front of his house.
BaNkuna had taken to Facebook to detail that Tshwane Metro Police Department officers threatened him with arrest for the vegetable garden on the pavement in front of his Theresapark property in Pretoria North.
The metro police have since given him a R1 500 fine after he refused to remove the vegetable garden.
For most of the week, sympathisers accused the metro police of being harsh and unreasonable in dealing with the matters. But who exactly is the “Cabbage Bandit”?
BaNkuna is a 47-year-old businessman born and raised in Tzaneen, Limpopo.
He has a masters degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Sussex in the UK. He also studied political sciences at the University of Witwatersrand and did management courses at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
He said he created the garden to assist his social worker wife so she could provide for impoverished people.
BaNkuna started growing the vegetables three years ago. He said when he grabbed the 600 square metres of overgrown street pavement and planted food, his neighbours started laughing, thinking that he had gone mad.
“Now I feed them at R10 per hand. I smile each time they pay me. Their laughter is my fertiliser,” he said.
BaNkuna has received overwhelming support, especially on social media.
A page was created by gardeners on Facebook called Djo BaNkuna Support Group, which now has just over 2500 members rallying behind the “urban farmer”.
Black First Land First, also among his supporters, said the Tshwane metro police, at the behest of the municipality, were involved in unethical behaviour by harassing BaNkuna.
The political party also wrote to Tshwane mayor Randall Williams demanding that BaNkuna be left alone.
One SA leader Mmusi Maimane also called slammed the City’s police on the matter.
“What a waste of police resources. We have serious crimes happening daily in this country. Bullying this man for planting cabbages is preposterous,” Maimane said.
BaNkuna also has a home music studio where he offers lessons to children as young as 10 for free.
“I dedicate at least five hours of my time on Saturdays teaching children how to write songs and use studio equipment, among other things.”
BaNkuna is expected to appear before the Wonderboom Municipal Court on November 23 for his refusal to pay the fine issued to him by metro police.
Tshwane metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba said: “We do not discriminate in the enforcement of law. We seek to enforce all laws equally in the city and ensure that when complaints are received, we respond to them.”
He said on September 9, a complaint was received in relation to the use of a road reserve.
The officers identified BaNkuna was utilising a public road reserve to grow an array of crops.
BaNkuna was issued a verbal warning and told to comply with the regulations pertaining to the use of road reserves. He did comply, said Mahamba.
Subsequently, he was issued with a fine of R1 500, in terms of the Road Traffic Act 96 of 1996, as he was obstructing a sidewalk and space reserved for pedestrians.
“This was national legislation which regulates what is allowed on a public road reserve. It is further supported by the by-law on City Amenities,” he said.
“Mr BaNkuna does not own this land and cannot merely decide to use it for agricultural purposes. It is public land which needs to be accessed by all residents in the area, their rights must be protected.
“We have engaged with Mr BaNkuna to highlight exactly why his actions are problematic. What is further alarming is that on his public Facebook posts he has openly bragged about grabbing land.
“This is deeply alarming because the City of Tshwane is actively trying to combat land invasions which violates the rights of citizens.”
Mahamba said BaNkuna also told the media that he donated his produce, yet his social media activity indicated he sold this produce as well.
"When any member of the public is issued with a section 56 it has a due date that he/she is expected to pay the fine and those dates are being provided by the courts.
“In Mr BaNkuna’s case, his due date to pay that fine is in October and if he fails to pay within the prescribed period there is a date that he can appear in court to dispute the fine which would be later in November.”
Mahamba added the City also had a formal adopt-a-spot policy where residents that wished to beatify public spaces could apply.
“Mr BaNkuna has not attempted to engage on this policy.”