Tutu Zuma can often be spotted trundling around Mpophomeni with her wheelbarrow piled high with grass, manure and discarded plants. “People throw so many useful things away” she says. “the only thing I have to ask for is manure because in Zulu culture, women can’t go in the kraal, so the men put it outside for me. They are usually happy that I am cleaning up the waste.” Her wheelbarrow is her exercise machine – keeping her fit and strong, no need for going to the gym!
Tutu’s garden is neat and bountiful. Small raised beds are filled with seedlings which grow best in the cooler months – cabbage, spinach, beetroot and peas – all mulched with homemade compost and dried grass. Fruit trees on the borders include peach, apple, guava, mulberry and lemon and, during summer, the fences are alive with granadilla, grapevines and many bean varieties. This is a veritable food forest.
Growing up in the Midlands, Tutu recalls her parents growing all the food they needed, especially the classic trio named ‘3 sisters’ – mielies, pumpkins and beans all growing together. “I remember the tasty big white ‘Bombom beans’ (a lima variety)”. I gave her a handful of my favourite fagiolini scivi and yellow Lesotho beans to try. Nowadays, she eats entirely from her own garden, needing only to buy mielie meal as there is not enough space to grow all the maize she requires. “I dream of having a small farm where I can grow organically and keep a few cows and chickens as well.”
Herbs are a particular passion and there are many varieties crammed into the garden too. Comfrey is an important component of compost, but Tutu also uses it to sooth sprains and swelling; Yarrow is handy to stop cuts bleeding and Bulbine great for rashes. “I enjoy herbal teas” she says, “like mint or lemon balm. I don’t drink other tea.” She also prefers to eat much of her produce raw or simply steamed.
Neighbours often ask for vegetables and she is happy to help, especially those in need. She would however, prefer to help others set up their own gardens, so they too can enjoy good quality food all year around, rather than relying on her. She saves seeds from her plants and shares them with the community.
Her enthusiasm and generosity has created a little pocket of resilience that is really inspiring. “I am so happy when I am in the garden, smelling the herbs and working hard.”