During the past December holiday I noticed, in passing my erstwhile school, a bank of happy beans and shiny spinach right between classrooms, in a place of prominence.
Later the beans were removed from the trellis. By autumn, going past on my bike, I stopped by two workers sweeping paving, and asked them who did the vegetable garden and they immediately replied: Sipho.
A year ago, just after school re-opened after the April break, Sipho Makhabane joined Laerskool (Primary School) Du Preez van Wyk as a gardener. He had been gardener at a farm school, Lucky Primary School, near Ezemvelo Nature Reserve (where he's never been; I've exhorted him y aller) when the Department of Education gave him a choice when staff at the farm school was cut: he could either join the staff at a new primary school in Zithobeni, Bronkhorstspruit's township, or he could go to Du Preez van Wyk.
“I decided to go the whites,” Sipho says, “to see how it is here.” What he found was a long, thin strip of grass removed for a vegetable garden in front of the science class, as a sort of outdoor lab. What he also found was a principal, Erhard Krüger, who let him extend the vegetable garden and to plant as he sees fit. Sipho also chose Du Preez van Wyk, he tells me later, because he'd been there for training and noticed the principal reading the Bible and praying.
He dug up a large rectangle from the kikuyu, left a grass strip, and dug another large rectangle, running along much of the east-west axis of the western side of the school. He found an old shoe, and stony & clayey soil (quite the opposite of my parents' soil, 1.5km thence southwestwards).
Fortuitously one of the teachers keeps goats and provided him with ‘a Stallion bakkie [a one-ton pickup only sold in Africa and South America] full’ of bokmis (goat manure) which he worked into the soil. That is all he has done to the soil in a year.
In the shed are bags of commercial compost donated by the Dept of Agriculture, but he hasn't yet needed it. He worries that all the goat manure might have acidified an already acidish soil.
It is now ukwindla, autumn harvest, and he is still harvesting of the spinach, selling some to the teachers, and sending vegetables every Tuesday to a daycare centre in Zithobeni. >>