Creating paradise in a corner of Mamelodi
EPHRAIM Mabena stands proudly against the backdrop of a section of the Magaliesberg mountain range just above Mamelodi West; the land he has spent the past 14 years rehabilitating.
The traditional healer explained that the land was rehabilitated to preserve the rich history encompassed in the mountain.
A variety of herbal plants, vegetables and trees have been planted and sheltered on the section of the mountain, known as Engadini, Zulu for “the garden”.
Mabena said his forefathers instructed him to build a place for the preservation of tradition and healing. He then stumbled upon this piece of land, which was until then used as a dumping site.
“This place needed rehabilitation because of its history. My ancestors commanded me to bring back some dignity to this mountain and preserve the heritage and biodiversity here,” Mabena said.
The portion of the mountain was, at the time, a dumping site. It was also a haven for criminals, he said. “A lot of bodies had been found dumped here in the past. This was in addition to the garbage that people threw in this place.
“However, all that changed when my ancestors instructed me to convert it into what it is, and will leave a legacy for future generations,” he said.
Mabena divided the space into sections in which he grows different types of plants for various projects – all aimed at conserving indigenous knowledge and preserving plants in danger of being wiped out through overuse and misuse.
“Mountains are the site of traditional rites and events and therefore have sacred elements about them. This is part of the indigenous knowledge which needs to be taught to the youth,” the traditional medicine practitioner said.
Mabena adopted the piece of the mountain and roped in people from the community to help him clear it. He subsequently built a hut, which serves as the centre of the project he runs in accordance with indigenous knowledge systems. He named it Mothotong Heritage Site.
The planting process begins in a greenhouse with about 10 rows of various plants. They are treated like small babies and given their first feel of life.
“In there, they are allowed to take root and start growing, and this is where we get an idea of their compatibility with the area and the soil we use,” Mabena said.
Inside the incubator, he pointed out the different plants that were being given a chance to germinate. When ready they would be planted in the open gardens, he said.
Plants used by scientists in the production of medicines and cosmetics stand in their own section.
These are used for creating pharmaceutical and cosmetic products as part of a project he is working on with the University of Pretoria and Unisa, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Science and Technology and the Agricultural Research Council, which teaches and ensures that cultivation is done correctly.
Some of the plants are used in sunscreens, lotions and creams to treat acne and skin pigmentation. Others are used by TB and cancer patients.
In another section are vegetables grown to supply the community with fresh produce.
Community members put in long hours tending to the garden and ensuring the produce all comes out fine in the end.
Apart from gaining knowledge about plants and their properties, community members are benefiting in other ways.
“We have six community members who are permanently employed here, four of whom work in the field. They attend courses on planting and harvesting to ensure that they know what they are doing,” Mabena said.
All in all, Mabena said he is extremely proud of his little paradise.