Our Burning Planet


Ndawo Entle: From Joburg dumping site to a community garden helping green a city

Ndawo Entle: From Joburg dumping site to a community garden helping green a city
A community member works in space allocated to her at Ndawo Entle Natural Growing Site in Bezuidenhout Valley, Johannesburg. (Photo:Trudy Motseta)

Ndawo Entle Natural Growing Site is a community garden on a former illegal dump site in Bezuidenhout Valley. While it faces issues of water scarcity and financial uncertainty, volunteers say more and more community members have begun using the garden as food prices rise.

Ndawo Entle Natural Growing Site, located on what used to be an illegal dumping site in Joburg’s Bezuidenhout Valley, has grown amid the electricity and cost-of-living crisis, with more and more community members starting to grow fresh food, use Ndawo Entle’s communal kitchen and participate in various workshops run by volunteers.

Trudy Motseta, one of the leaders at Ndawo Entle, said community gardens and growing sites can be an important way of making Johannesburg healthier and more sustainable, as well as making it easier to access fresh food during rolling blackouts.

From dumping site to community garden

Before Ndawo Entle was a community garden, it was an illegal dumpsite and a crime hotspot.

“They used to dump dead animals, rubbish, whatever,” Motseta said. “And it was also a crime spot… people used to get robbed here.”

However, when community members started cleaning up the dumpsite and planting crops on it instead, the atmosphere shifted. Motseta said she first noticed the garden in 2019 while driving by.

She had been growing and selling fresh spinach from her small garden plot in Kensington, but she was running out of space. She asked the community members if she could use some of the space at Ndawo Entle, and they agreed. In 2020, the pandemic pushed her to become even more involved.

ndawo entle community garden

Ndawo Entle grows many of its crops in upcycled containers such as used tyres. (Photo: Trudy Motseta)

“When Covid started, we sort of lost almost everything, so we ended up moving here full time,” she said. “And that’s when we started growing more and more, and most of the guys who had been here left.”

Today, Motseta leads many things at Ndawo Entle. 

Because the garden often doesn’t have much water, she opts to use a growing technique called “permaculture” where different varieties of plants grow together, providing one another with shade and reducing the need for water, pesticides and herbicides.

The garden looks a bit like a small forest, with trees growing alongside squash vines, pumpkins and a variety of other crops.

Motseta said Ndawo Entlo aims to grow the types of crops that community members in the surrounding Bez Valley and Bertrams neighbourhoods — many of whom are immigrants from other African countries — want to use in their cooking. She said that in many ways, it’s a learning space where community members can learn about different crops and cooking techniques from each other.

“The foods that we grow here are easy to grow, and also bring different kinds of people,” she said.

“[Many community members like] amaranth and pumpkin leaves, and also sweet potato leaves. We never knew that. In South Africa, we don’t eat leaves of sweet potatoes, but in other countries, they love sweet potato leaves. So that’s something they also introduced to us.”

Community members can use the space to grow their own food and use Ndawo Entle’s communal kitchen to cook — something that is especially useful during rolling blackouts when people often can’t prepare meals at their homes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The future of urban agriculture in Johannesburg and the role of Bertrams Farm

Nicky Dzanibe, who lives near Ndawo Entle, said the communal kitchen is one of her favourite things about the space.

“What I treasure most about the place is the kitchen,” she said. “Even on rainy days it still brings people and dogs together around the fireplace, drinking freshly brewed tea made by Trudy and eating a warm delicious meal prepared from the vegetables in the garden.”

Encouraging gardening beyond Ndawo Entle

Ndawo Entle has compost piles and a worm farm and recently acquired several chickens. Motseta said the garden has begun selling compost and earthworms to local residents, especially those who are looking to start their own smaller gardens at their homes. Eventually, she hopes to sell the chickens as well, since many community members use chickens for rituals as well as food.

Overall, Motseta sees Ndawo Entle as a space to activate and educate the community about gardening techniques so that they can start their own gardens, whether it be at their homes, at schools or in underutilised spaces throughout Johannesburg, such as illegal dump sites. 

She runs workshops about composting, cooking, upcycling and permaculture techniques.

Dzanibe said that in the past couple of months, she has seen a variety of small, community gardens popping up around her neighbourhood.

Legal challenges and funding issues

However, issues of land ownership can pose challenges for urban gardens and farming projects. The land where Ndawo Entle is located is technically owned by Athlone Boys’ High School. The former community members who started using the land as a garden had a lease from the school, but that lease expired in 2021, and, according to Motseta, has not been renewed.

While Motseta said Ndawo Entle is speaking to the school about renewing the arrangement, not having a lease has in the meantime made it difficult to get funding from private donors or the department of agriculture. Athlone Boys’ High did not respond to requests for comment.

“We are trying to get money to… buy a JoJo tank,” Motseta said. “And then we can get someone to connect the hosepipe to the tank and have water.”

She also said that if she could raise enough money, she’d like to put up a fence around Ndawo Entle. However, she wants to make sure private donors do not interfere with the basic principles of how she and her coworkers run Ndawo Entle.

Some potential donors who approached Motseta have wanted to change the way she does things, switching from a natural, permaculture growing style to more industrial types of techniques. But she said she wants to “keep the wildness” of Ndawo Entle.

Pockets of nature in Joburg’s inner city

Dzanibe said the wildness is one of the things she appreciates about the space. She said when she first visited the garden, it reminded her of being back home in her village in the Eastern Cape.

“I loved how it didn’t feel like a place within the city of Johannesburg,” Dzanibe said.

Motseta said turning empty or underutilised urban spaces into green spaces and gardens has a range of benefits, especially environmental ones.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Urban farms ‘could be a real game-changer in the SA landscape’

“I want to teach people to grow their own food because of… what’s happening with climate change,” she said. “If people are growing food locally, it will also help to cut down carbon emissions.”

First, Motseta said, locally grown food does not need to be shipped in trucks and kept cool for days at supermarkets. But beyond that, she said, urban gardening projects can reduce the need to develop new land in rural areas.

If the many underutilised spaces throughout Johannesburg’s inner city neighbourhoods – like abandoned lots and illegal dump sites – could be turned into urban farming projects, even small ones, the city could rely less on importing food from rural areas, Motseta said.

“We cannot say, ‘I’m trying to solve climate change’ but destroy more nature,” she said. “So use what you have. 

“The land that is not being used should be turned into gardens, into farming, rather than opening up land somewhere in the middle of nowhere [and] cutting down all the trees to develop a new project.” DM

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