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Sowing the seeds of change in South Africa

The first time Elizabeth Vibert entered the thinking garden in a village in South Africa, she was blown away by what she saw.
Thinking garden
Evelyn Nkuna (left) and Rosina Masangu in the Thinking Garden in the village of Jopi in South Africa. Victoria resident and University of Victoria professor Elizabeth Vibert co-produced and wrote a new documentary called The Thinking Garden

The first time Elizabeth Vibert entered the thinking garden in a village in South Africa, she was blown away by what she saw.

Women, mostly over the age of 60, tending to a 15 acre garden under the blazing sun, growing different types of vegetables such as butternut squash, beets, green beans, maze, ground nuts and indigenous vegetables year-round.

“I was really amazed that older women could accomplish so much on such a big piece of land with hand hoes and no mechanization,” said Vibert, adding the farm also had a water conserving drip irrigation system. “It was very productive.”

The Hlektani Community Garden was originally created in 1991, when the country was faced with severe drought, political turmoil and malnutrition. It was then a group of older women came together and decided to bring about social change in their community.

Named Hleketani — which means “thinking” in the local xiTsonga language, the garden has since blossomed into a community building tool that provides fresh vegetables to people in the village, as well as those living with HIV/AIDS.

Now, the garden, which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary, is the focus of a new documentary by Vibert, a Victoria resident and an associate professor at the University of Victoria.

The Thinking Garden is a 30-minute documentary featuring the women who have dedicated themselves to the garden over the past two decades.

It's a cause that is close to Vibert's heart. As the film's co-producer and writer, she first came across the garden six years ago, while volunteering on another food security project in the village of Nkambako in South Africa. While trying to establish an irrigation system in the village, volunteers mentioned Vibert should visit the community garden in the neighbouring village of Jopi, roughly eight kilometres away.

The first time Vibert visited the garden, she was welcomed with opened arms. As she learned more about the women's lives, many of whom lived through apartheid, Vibert was touched by their stories and wanted to share their success with the rest of the world.

“This story, though it's very particular about this particular farm in South Africa, is also a universal story. It's a story of people faced with dire circumstances, taking matters into their own hands and making real social change,” said Vibert, adding it's also a story of what local farmers bring to communities.

“They do so much more than feed communities, they're actually building communities in really powerful ways. This group of women farmers is doing that . . . in challenging circumstances.”

The Thinking Garden premiers at the University of Victoria's David Lam auditorium on Wednesday, March 1 (today) at 7 p.m. The screening is free and filmmakers will be on hand for a discussion after.

The film will also premier at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival March 8 to 12 and at the Vancouver South African Film Festival March 31 to April 2.