Winner: ‘Cabbage Bandit’ Djo BaNkuna; Runners-up: Gift of the Givers’ Gideon Groenewald & Bulungula’s Lynne Wilkinson

‘Cabbage Bandit’ Joe Nkuna (aka Djo BaNkuna). (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

A bandit of the cabbage variety, Joe Nkuna (aka Djo BaNkuna) plants seeds for his community and hopes to call out bullies – as was seen recently when he stood up to carping metro police.

When Khataza Nkuna heard, this past September, that metro police were threatening her son with arrest for planting a kerbside veggie garden outside his Pretoria home, she burst into tears.

Nkuna raised five children as a single mom, at times selling bananas on pavements in Tzaneen, in what is now Limpopo province. It stirred up memories of being harassed by apartheid-era police in the 1980s when she was chased off the streets while trying to provide for her children.  

Her son, Joe Nkuna (aka Djo BaNkuna), hushed her cries, but understood his mother’s tears from old hurts and anger when laws turned to perversion. It was more galling that Tshwane Metro Police were targeting him, an everyday Akasia Park resident who works in government, for growing veggies instead of rose bushes on the corner patch of council-owned earth outside his home.

The Tshwane Metro Police claimed Nkuna was in contravention of a by-law. They sent police officers in five vehicles and took an hour to write up a R1,500 fine because they couldn’t decide on a charge. When they did, it only applied to buildings that were public amenities – not residential homes. They allegedly threatened him with arrest and a criminal record when he and his wife Lorica later tried to state their case at the Metro Police offices.

“I wrote about it on Facebook and it went viral, and journalists, even international media, phoning and people from all over the world writing to me – I got so much support. My two sons were joking that they would be bringing me atchar and a half-loaf to prison because I was now going to be a famous dangerous criminal – ‘the Cabbage Bandit’,” he said, referring to how he got his nickname. Nkuna stood up to the bullies, abuse of power and by-laws applied by whim and ego.

“I knew there were other people who were planting far more than I was. So I thought if I fight, I will give them hope, and maybe we get to legalise this. I had to stand strong.”

In November, his case was thrown out of court. It’s a victory that has come with many lessons. He reflects on these past months while settling into a seat looking out on his garden, which boasts fruit trees named after strong, inspirational women like his gran Nkothasi, Harriet Tubman, Miriam Makeba and Nokuthula Simelane. His Eden consists of litchis, coffee, grapes, apples, prunes, naartjies, mangoes and nectarines. If there’s some earth, he’ll coax it to turn seeds to flowers to become fruit.

He admits to sleepless nights over the past few weeks. “Some days I did think that I should have just planted roses, especially when my youngest son asked quite seriously if I could really go to jail. Also, the thought of getting a criminal record over cabbages really made me worry,” he says.

But, as the story went viral, he knew he had become a symbol of the little guy taking on the establishment. Taking a stand was a pushback against laws that have not kept pace with evolving needs. Most importantly, it was ringing the alarm bell of deepening poverty, food insecurity and that more people are falling through the cracks.

“I discovered that people of every colour understand the situation in this country in terms of rising poverty levels. We are all attuned to the fact that people do not have food, and people are asking why we can’t share the food we have and how we can do that,” he says.

At his kerbside veggie patch, he plants for those in need of cabbage or sweet potatoes for the pot, or a few morogo (wild spinach) leaves and beetroot to turn into dinner. Sometimes schoolchildren pick groundnuts and strawberries on their walk home. The strawberry plants are newcomers donated by another guerrilla gardener. She heard his story and was happy to show a middle finger to rules that have become overreach.

Lorica, a social worker, has harvested bakkie-loads of fresh vegetables from the patch to distribute to communities in Soshanguve, where she works. She continues to do this, and the “Bandit” says he’s thankful to his wife, who long ago “baptised him in the theory of hunger – the need to act rather than to sit back just because you can eat bacon and cheese”.

Nkuna tells stories that he’s heard about people’s enormous needs. It’s the gogo (grandmother) paying off her daughter’s funeral that took place four years ago by handing over her South African Social Security Agency grant card to mashonisas (lenders),  who won’t return it and only give her R250 a month. It’s the orphaned girl whose uncle has kicked her out of the RDP house she was living in to rent it out to a Zimbabwean couple, who don’t have a support structure in the country.

Nkuna realises that the gratitude people show him when they receive vegetables is hardly ever about the food; it’s because their pain is recognised. Nkuna’s next project is to work with the City of Cape Town to start veggie-scaping across the Mother City.

The music producer hobbyist is also plotting to do a podcast. He’ll talk food security, society, community-building and “challenging the status quo”. It will be called The Cabbage Patch.

“I’ve always been outspoken – I get it from my mother. We must wake up to the realisation that we have enough to feed all of us; enough to shelter all of us; enough to clothe all of us if we share and we spare the bottle of Hennessy VSOP, that bacon prime cut and the tithes paid to our already wealthy pastors,” he says.

The Cabbage Bandit’s work continues. There’s more soil to turn and more hopeful seeds to plant – those rose bushes can wait a little longer. DM168

Gift of the Givers’ hydrologist Gideon Groenewald. (Photo: James Fowler)


Gift of the Givers’ hydrologist Gideon Groenewald has helped restore water to many communities in the past year. Together with drilling teams from JP Landman, he has been at the forefront of fast and efficient emergency response projects for the NGO.

Although his list of academic credentials is long and impressive, Oom Gideon, as he is affectionately known, is often seen helping emergency teams, handing out food parcels and regaling people with his stories. From restoring water access to Gauteng’s hospitals to helping communities in Butterworth in the former Transkei, Sterkspruit and the drought-stricken towns of Jansenville, Klipplaat, Steytlerville and Nelson Mandela Bay, Oom Gideon was there to help. DM168

Public healthcare specialist Lynne Wilkinson, the acting director of Bulungula. (Photo: Supplied)


The Bulungula Incubator, which is located in Elliotdale on the Wild Coast, one of the poorest and most remote regions of South Africa, assists people who ordinarily would be last in line to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Under the guidance of public health specialist Lynne Wilkinson, who is the acting director of Bulungula, the work of this NGO has seen health workers vaccinated by mobile teams under the Sisonke programme as well as the implementation of a successful outreach model to help get rural communities vaccinated. Their “homebase” in the Mbhashe sub-district has been accredited as a Covid-19 vaccination site and receives vaccines and consumables from the Eastern Cape Department of Health. – Estelle Ellis/DM168



Every year, Daily Maverick puts its mind to the question of who we should recognise in our annual Persons of the Year categories.

In the past, these decisions have been made after a bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this year, we decided to do things a little differently. We had the bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but simply to arrive at a shortlist of nominees in each category. Using a new reader engagement tool called Hearken, we asked our online readers to cast their votes on who they think deserves the final nod. We also gave readers the option to choose their own candidate in any category in case they thought we had neglected anyone more worthy. The results were both expected and surprising.

On the whole, readers agreed with our shortlisted candidates, with a few exceptions. We had not considered Greta Thunberg as a candidate for International Person of the Year, but so many readers nominated her that she earned enough mentions to be a runner-up in that category.

Many objected to us only focusing on singers for our Artist of the Year and objected to the predominance of foreign singers in the category. Quite a few readers were critical of us leaving out African women and female contenders in general.

The journalists at Daily Maverick were mentioned several times as nominees for different categories of People of the Year – ah, thanks for the love, guys, but this time around we wanted to cast our net outside our inner circle.

The more than 800 readers who voted totally exceeded our expectations, because this was the first time we have opened People of the Year to readers’ votes.

This pie chart shows how readers voted for the Community Champion of the year. See our website for stories on all the other People of the Year winners


Below are the categories. Read about the winners and runners-up in various categories below.

  • South African Person of the Year – a person who has had the broadest or most significant impact on the country as a whole.
  • Africa Person of the Year – a person who has made an outstanding contribution on the African continent this year.
  • International Person of the Year – a person who has had broad international impact or made an outstanding contribution this year.
  • South African Villain of the Year – there was no shortage of suggestions in this self-explanatory category…
  • International Villain of the Year – as above, but drawn from foreign fields.
  • South African Businessperson of the Year – not necessarily the person who made the biggest profit, but someone whose influence went beyond the balance sheets.
  • Community Champion of the Year – someone uplifting, defending and representing ordinary South Africans, often against all odds.
  • South African Polluter of the Year – individuals and entities which have succeeded in further dirtying our environment this year.
  • Our Burning Planet Heroes of the Year – the green warriors fighting for our planet’s survival.
  • South African Youth Champion of the Year – young people working to improve the lot of other young people.
  • Sportsperson of the Year – a sportsperson whose positive impact has been felt either on or off the field.
  • Sports Team of the Year – a team that has stood out from the rest in 2021 either on or off the field.
  • Artist of the Year – a hitmaker whose musical or social influence has towered above others.
  • Moegoe of the Year – someone whose behaviour perhaps falls short of Villain of the Year, but who has in some way acted idiotically.
  • Grinch of the Year – someone who qualifies as a spoilsport or killjoy. – DM168


This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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  • According to the story, the cabbage bandit now has strawberries on his patch also ! Will Wimbledon be contacting him soon ? Hope he is getting ready for the supply of cream also ! Well done.

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