13-years ago, Ludwe Qamata hit rock bottom. He was serving time for a senseless act of violence in a Cape Town prison cell. Then he started gardening and became Khayelitsha’s “Ghetto Gardener” a beacon of hope in his community and his own saving grace.
“It [gardening] has helped me cleanse my inner being and helped me develop myself and love myself. So, I would love if young people would have that ability or capability to put faith and trust within themselves. Believe, believe, believe in yourself, and do what you can.”
Through Ghetto Gardner, senior citizens are getting access to nutritional meal programs. “We are growing food for the seniors of Sinovuyo Senior Club in Khayelitsha and aim to reach out to entire communities with a similar vision of what we do with Sinovuyo. [We want to] turn hopeless spaces into [places] of hope and happiness”.
The Ghetto Gardener programme is not just limited to senior clubs. Qamata has also worked at schools, shelters and orphanages. A multifaceted man with many talents, he is able to use objects like an old suitcase, pot plants, old pots, etc. to start a home garden.
A life of struggle and violence
Before he became the Ghetto Gardener, Qamata did not have the most stable upbringing. He moved from household to household, eventually landing on his grandmother’s doorstep in Mtsheko in the Eastern Cape.
“It wasn’t easy. It was a rough battle for me growing up. I was exposed to physical and emotional abuse. I have gone through harsh things, [things] that turned [part of] me [into] an animal.”
Eventually he returned to Khayelitsha where his world was turned upside down, when it was revealed that his father was not related to him by blood.
“The anger, all those bad [feelings] were haunting me and I changed,” he says.
He further spiralled in his teens and was eventually sentenced to jail for three years in 2009 after a street fight ended in him stabbing a man to death. “I don’t really want to speak about the details,” he says.
“Like any other teenager [would have], I wanted to know who my biological father was. I would say I was busy blaming the past, and the way I grew up. That is what was driving my frustration. And that is how I started involving myself in the madness in the streets. The killing and fighting, all that stuff was part of it.”
Finding healing through gardening
Becoming a community gardener was never a part of Qamata’s plan. Like most people with a criminal record, he struggled to find employment.
“I could not get a job, not from government or anywhere. I had grade twelve and I needed a job, but everywhere I go, I would pass interviews, I pass everything else, but after they take my fingerprints, this criminal [record] sh*t would come up and BOOM, it drops me back down into the drain.”
He was living in a hostel in Nyanga, a stone’s throw away from a Students Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) community centre. He saw people gardening there and started visiting them out of curiosity.
His curiosity eventually led him to Abalimi Bezekhaya, a non-profit organisation that teaches people how to garden across the Cape Flats.
“When I came by Abalimi, I was that kind of person who came in to help the others. There were people who wanted to garden but they don’t know how or didn’t have means or the knowledge, so I was the person who transported, or moved, that information to the seniors of the community.”
A light at the end of a dark tunnel
His ability to help the seniors at Abalimi made him realise that he could help more people, and so the seed for ghetto gardener started flowering.
He earned the name Ghetto Gardener because of how hard he worked in the community gardens, even after serving his parole. People across the Cape Flats benefited from his labour, and seeing their progress gave him the hope and power to do even better. “The love that I was gaining from people of the communities of Gugulethu, Langa, Nyanga, Crossroads, Phillipi, KTC, you name it, it was building me. It was making me into another person.”
At the moment, Qamata is teaching himself how to run his business more efficiently. He is practicing better record keeping and attempting to understand the financial aspects of the business better in order to grow it.
He hopes to expand the Ghetto Gardener business into more of a brand and wants to help even more communities.
“[I want] to implement nurseries all around the townships and provide all the farmers, and the people who are growing food in their homes, with seeds and seedlings and all the information.