Luleka Zepe sprung into her eco-warrior cape in 2012 when she watched in horror as children washed their hands in a drain in Site C in Khayelitsha, the second largest township in Mzansi.
Zepe (48) is the founder of the Elamilima Environmental Project. The initiative is focused on environmental cleanliness and unlawful dumping in the community. It is also community garden.
“I saw the need to educate the public about the health and environmental risks connected with preventing drain overflow by avoiding incorrect garbage disposal,” she says.
As a concerned citizen, she had to intervene. Zepe suggested recycling as a means to end unlawful garbage disposal in her community.
“I enlisted the aid of the environmental health department and the division of solid waste, and nearly every vacant lot in this region contained unlawful trash.”
According to Zepe, the informal settlement’s solid garbage was collected once weekly. “Solid waste recognised that twice-weekly garbage collection would have a substantial impact.”
Growing food from trash
When Zepe observed that the taxi rank at site C was plagued with large rats, her passion for recycling and environmental health intensified.
She says that the taxi rank food containers were the dirtiest prior to the Elamilima Project’s cleaning efforts.
According to Zepe, upcycling is the act of converting by-products, waste materials, worthless/undesirable goods into new materials or products of higher quality, such as artistic or environmental value.
Zepe says that she has always endeavoured to generate beauty from adversity. She implemented the use of food scraps and other food waste in the cultivation of plants. In 2015, she started growing spinach, spring onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots.
“When I sold spinach, my customers would inquire as to why my product is superior in both quality and quantity. I stated that there were no GMOs present and that anyone could cultivate their own.”
Taking up space
In 2018, Zepe participated in a four-day programme with Abalimi Bezekhaya that focused mostly on mulching and brewing garden tea. She says that as a proponent of organic farming, her objective was to generate fertiliser from recycled foods.
The greatest benefit of mulching is that it conserves soil moisture, improves soil fertility and health, and recycles organic waste.
She adds that by planting her own food and distributing it throughout Khayelitsha, she was able to interact with people from various backgrounds.
The Agency in South Africa’s food systems invited Zepe in 2020 to give a food justice perspective on food security in Cape Flats and St. Helena Bay during the Covid-19 outbreak.
As a group of researchers, they formed the Food Agency Cape Town movement, which merged art and food extensively; from food farming to poetry and musicians; all about food.
Food Agency Cape Town has published a poetry book titled “Fresh Offerings”.
Creating a healthy atmosphere
According to Zepe, our communities must be aware of the extent to which their actions contribute to climate change. She says that even tossing clothing sends acid into the soil, which is extremely detrimental to the soil.
“The environment resembles that sensitive family member. People must attend community meetings and seminars to comprehend the significance of these issues, which indirectly and directly touches everyone.”
Zepe believes that if we do not maintain a healthy environment, we will inevitably face preventable poverty.
Recently, she joined the Khayelitsha community leaders in building a food forest in Stikland. She says that food forests require less maintenance and are extremely advantageous for climate change and environmental health.