68 year-old Thangiwe Khanyeza lives in the Valley of 1000 Hills community of KwaNyuswa. Here, Thangiwe is not only the matriarch of her large family of seven children and eight grandchildren, but the much loved and respected leader of her local gogo support group which is one of 68 currently forming part of HACT's Gogo Support Groups programme. Aptly named “Shlanguse Ndlala” in isiZulu which literally translates to “shield starvation” this well-established group represents one of HACT’s oldest gogo support groups who have been meeting and working together for close on 15 years.
Originally formed by Thangiwe and 12 local gogos in 2005, the group’s numbers have since swelled to 27 as the number and variety of activities the group has initiated has grown over the years. The core focus for their many activities however continues to be their vegetable garden which is lovingly tended by the group’s members twice a week and every season yields the most impressive crop of fresh produce including spinach, cabbage, pumpkin, onions and carrots. The vegetable garden plays a crucial role in providing food security for the grannies and their families and has helped them endure many a tough time as Thangiwe explains;
“We are very proud of our garden which has helped us to feed our families and not have to spend what little money we have at the shops. Our families are very grateful for our garden too because they know without it things would be very difficult.”
In addition to her group’s vegetable garden, Thangiwe’s horticultural skills, which she developed with the help of HACT, have literally borne much fruit over the years with her homestead currently boasting a large collection of fruit trees that she has personally planted from seed. From avocados, bananas and guavas to oranges, grapefruit and lemons, Thangiwe’s fruit trees not only provide a never ending variety of fresh and healthy food to her family’s diet, but serve as a teaching aid in educating her group members and neighbours about healthy living.
“I am passionate about people of all ages living a healthy and active life” says Thangiwe “this is why I started our group in the first place because there were so many gogos sitting at home doing nothing instead of finding ways to help themselves.”
Finding ways to help themselves is what also gave life to one of the group’s other key activities, their savings club. Every month, after they’ve received their state pensions, each gogo contributes R200 which is meticulously recorded in the group’s register by Thangiwe. Each gogo then has a turn to receive the group’s monthly collection which quickly amounts to an impressive R5400. The gogos can decide what to spend their money on, so long as it meets one of her families’ tangible needs. Thus far, three grannies including Thangiwe whose families where living in mud houses, have been able to build a concrete block home thanks to the savings club. Other projects recently completed by the grannies include the installation of kitchens as well as indoor toilets in several of the oldest group members’ homes. 78 year-old, Reginah says that this alone has been life-changing for her and her family as she no longer has to worry about making it to the latrine at the end of her garden in time to go to the bathroom.
“I’m getting old now and these things become very important at my age!” laughs Regina.
Looking back at how far her group have come and their many accomplishments, Thangiwe says that her support group members have become like family to her.
“We laugh together, we work together and we even argue together, but what matters is we do it together because we’ve learnt that together we are stronger than on our own.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Francois Anderson