Nduna Sifiso Zulu discovers farming is in his blood

Babe Zulu is proud of being an African and of his IsiSwati culture and traditions. He is committed to reviving ceremonies and rituals associated with sacred seeds and agricultural practices. (Photo Rob Symons)

Nduna Sifiso Zulu lives at his mother’s homestead in Tjakastad and became Nduna of the area, which includes Avontuur, when he was still relatively young. Before Sifiso was born, his grandfather announced to the family that this unborn child would be Nduna when his father died. Initially Sifiso, who was the youngest son, resisted following in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father but eventually he accepted that it was his destiny to return to his IsiSwati roots in Elukwatini. Nduna Zulu is proud of his heritage and committed to learning more about the IsiSwati culture and reviving ceremonies, rituals and the protection of Sacred Natural Sites.

As a young man, Sifiso Zulu worked as a tourist guide in the nearby Sudwala caves, regarded as the oldest known caves in the world. He was also the receptionist at Ndalo Hotel, eManzana (Badplaas).  He had little idea, when he returned to the rural area where he grew up, that he would become a passionate and successful traditional farmer, like his mother. Or that he and the other farmers from Elukwatini would be instrumental in reviving interest in traditional seeds and food amongst the IsiSwati Royal family at the Ummemo celebration. This annual event is called by Prince Nkosi in Umjindi (Barberton) to celebrate Swazi culture.  It attracts a large influential crowd including Chiefs, Ndunas, government representatives and other dignitaries, the media, delegates from Swaziland and all the communities under Umjindi.

Babe Zulu, as he is respectfully known by the community, attended EarthLore’s community dialogues and agroecology training soon after EarthLore started working with the community of Avontuur in 2015.

This is Babe Zulu’s story of the changes he has seen since local farmers started reviving traditional seeds in the area. His passion for traditional farming has convinced him that this way of farming must be in his blood:

“As farmers, we started seeing changes after EarthLore’s community dialogues and AE trainings began. We soon realised the importance of traditional seeds, but it was a challenge to grow them in good soil free of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. We need to heal the soil in our fields that we have been poisoning for years because we were unaware of the damage caused by the chemical fertilisers and pesticides that the Department of Agriculture encourages us to use. To heal the soil, we need to feed and enrich it by adding lots of compost and natural fertilisers. Agroecology training taught us how to make liquid manure and biofertiliser.  We also learned a lot from learning exchange visits to places like Enaleni farm.”

“Enaleni farm near Richmond, in KZN, produces most of its own food. We saw there how everything in nature is interconnected and that by working in harmony with nature, it is possible to become seed and food sovereign and grow and harvest one’s own healthy crops and slaughter one’s own livestock for meat.”

“Through agroecology training we have learnt that intercropping and natural herbs are effective natural pest repellents. In 2018 I harvested twelve crates of tomatoes from my small backyard garden whereas previously I lost most of my tomato crops to pests.”

An agroecology training held in Nduna Zulu’s home garden

Babe Zulu has participated in several Seed & Food Fairs (SFF) including the annual event held in Bikita, Zimbabwe, in 2019. He came back to South Africa with a generous selection of traditional seeds that the Bikita farmers had shared with the visiting Elukwatini farmers who had made the long journey to Bikita. The event not only allowed farmers to share seeds but also to exchange knowledge with other farmers from different communities, provinces and countries. The Elukwatini farmers returned to South Africa inspired and motivated. There was a noticeable shift in the way the Elukwatini farmers approached farming after seeing how hard-working and productive the Bikita farmers are.

Babe Zulu also noted how ubuntu is growing amongst farmers. Ubuntu describes a quality of compassion and caring that used to exist between Africans but has been eroded. It was not evident in Elukwatini before EarthLore started working with the community. Farmers now share seeds and knowledge and are more willing to help each other, often volunteering assistance when they see another farmer is struggling.

Babe Zulu is happy to see how Covid-19 has encouraged the youth to value the knowledge of the elders about indigenous plants that will protect people and keep them healthy from the virus. The youth are also realising that farming is a more reliable and creative way to keep constructively occupied than a job that never materialises. Farming is hard work, but it is also rewarding to harvest one’s own crops and enjoy eating food that one has produced oneself.

The current big challenge facing Avontuur and surrounding areas is the shortage of water. Babe Zulu is looking forward to EarthLore’s support in providing agroecology training in water harvesting and water irrigation systems. Two such trainings took place in November 2020 and February 2021 facilitated by John Nzira of Ukuvuna. This is another inspiring story of change that is waiting to be told.

Note: On 16 March 2021, Nduna Zulu received notification from the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development (DLRRD) that he was a recipient of a R5800 PESI voucher to assist him in his work as a farmer. He was very happy to receive this support and is keen to use the funds to start a water harvesting system in his garden.

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