‘You educate a woman, you educate a generation’

by Mihle Mapoma
22 May 2024
22 May 2024

After losing her job in Johannesburg in 2019, Themi Mzindle came back home and challenged herself to start doing something new. She planted two rows of cabbages in her garden. She sold the 20 cabbages to neighbours and this encouraged her to grow other vegetables. Today she has two thriving gardens and her own plant nursery.

Her path to this point took a few twists and turns. Ms Mzindle, who lives in Qinabout, KZN, joined SaveAct in 2022 after being recruited by field officer Julia Mkhize. Because Ms Mzindle was a farmer, Ms Mkhize’s motivation was to get her into the training that was going to be done by SaveAct’s partner at the time, Siyazisiza Trust (ST). Training was to be offered in a range of subjects, including agriculture, poultry, plant nursery management and enterprise development, under the WAYSE project funded by GIZ.

As time passed, the cabbage business grew, customers became abundant and more than her little garden could handle. Ms Mzindle decided to branch out and get another piece of land to use exclusively for planting cabbages, in an area that doesn’t struggle with water shortages. This hectare and a half of land was then used to plant 400 cabbages, which sold out periodically. She will be expanding this area to plant 1000 cabbages.

“On the 11th of April 2023, I went to Mtunzini (ST compound) for plant nursery training,” she said. The nursery training took two weeks, with a total of 24 savings members, and five SaveAct staff members participating. “When I got there, I realised that there were many things I didn’t know, and that I learned. I saw that I gained knowledge that I wanted to take back to my community, and pass on to others.” From the Mtunzini nursery training, she learned how to use plant trays for growing seedlings and planting, how to fertilize well, and how to use water and natural pesticides. Then, she received incredible news.

“When I returned from Mtunzini, I got a call from Siyazisiza Trust (ST), telling me that I’d be granted a plant nursery,” she said. In disbelief, she took the promise with a grain of salt, until she was called again the following Friday to confirm that they were indeed on their way to her. “I was elated! I stood outside the entire time, so I could see them arrive!” The ST team got there in the late afternoon, to scour her garden for a place to put the nursery and to sort out logistics for the next day, when the construction would start. Ms Mzindle smiled when she recalled the moment, saying “I was so unbelievably happy! I was going to have something beautiful, something that was going to help me, and enable me to help others.”

She was the only individual recipient of a nursery, funded by GIZ and the SAB Foundation (SABF). Five other nurseries funded by these organisation were handed over to groups of savings group (SG) members in different regions, at the end of last year.

Ms Mzindle said customers love the new seedlings form (from nursery trays), because they don’t die as easily as those that are plucked straight from the ground. The seedlings also grow well, which could be attributed to the type of compost that is used for tray seedlings. The biggest advantage of the nursery, according to her, is that the community members don’t have to travel far or into town to buy seeds and seedlings; they can buy them from Ms Mzindle.

The most unexpected part of her new business is that now the majority of her customers are local small-scale commercial farmers. “I also get orders from people outside of KZN. They come here, and tell others about me,” she said proudly. As someone who is used to selling to community members who are buying for growing in their own gardens at home, or in small spaces “like outside a backroom”, this was a welcomed surprise. At the time of her interview, Ms Mzindle had expanded her offerings a bit and had trays of green pepper, chillies, broccoli, beetroot and spinach. On the floor of the nursery, she also had flowers, strawberry, avocado, mangos and macadamia nut plants, as well as trees she sells.

From attending Enterprise Development (ED) training, Ms Mzindle had learned about entrepreneurship, how to propel your business forward and record-keeping. “I learned that when you’ve sold something, you should write it down. If something goes wrong with a sale or the produce, you must record that as well. I also record how much profit I’ve made in a month. This is all something I wasn’t doing before. I’d just sell, and put the money away in my pocket,” she said. This training was attended by 767 savings groups members, and 35 staff.

“ED helped me because now I put away my business profit, and I am saving it to open a new space. This way I can produce more, and hire people in my community so that they can feed their families,” said Ms Mzindle. She largely works alone, but sometimes hires women who are part of her savings group (SG) to help with cultivating soil and planting. Furthermore, sharing the knowledge she has gained with her fellow SG members has inspired some of them to start their own gardens, and some have also turned the family gardens into businesses.

“I also have two young men, who work as my assistants for the nursery. I hired them to work on the inside mostly, so we can keep it neat at all times, (and ensure) the nursery functions well,” she said. The assistants work once or twice a week, depending on the situation, because “the workload becomes too much for one person.”

The nursery was built in the heart of Ms Mzindle’s  home garden, where she plants the same produce as the nursery, as well as lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries. She also keeps a makeshift beehive made out of tyres, for honey, and is clearing a corner of the garden that is not in use, to build multiple proper beehives, which she will move the bees she currently has to. In addition to that, she is hoping that more bees occupy the beehives, because she wants to start selling honey as well. On the other side of the driveway is a garden she uses for planting maize. When talking about the garden specifically, Ms Mzindle said she “planted all this so that my family could eat, and to enable my neighbours to buy produce nearby.”

The Mzindle family was sceptical about her new venture at first. They questioned her when she planted her very first two rows of cabbages, on whether she would keep up with all this. Her family then saw how passionate she was about this, and how she was actually yielding results, and got on board. Her dad, with full backing from the family, built her a storage area that is an extension of the garage. This is where Ms Mzindle  keeps all her equipment, compost, tools etc for the nursery and garden. “Their support makes me happy because everything will continue going well, (now that) my things are safe and in one space,” she said.

Ms Mzindle stated that SaveAct helped her most with simply learning how to save, as it wasn’t something she did before. Not only could she put away money, but the money gained interest; and when she needed a loan, she didn’t have to go to a loan shark or the bank for it.
“Now, every morning I wake up and go to work. I have work. I’d like to give thanks to Siyazisiza Trust for teaching us everything about how to take care of a nursery. I implore everyone to learn from me. They must see that life doesn’t stop after you fall, and there are those who can help you, like SaveAct and Siyazisiza did for me.”

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