I feel abundantly blessed and deeply enriched to have been a part of the ‘Sustainable Together Project’, and to have witnessed it take form, from its inspired and tentative embryonic stages to the moments where it started assuming a life of its own. The process itself echoed Return to Origin’s own organic nature, evolving with the contributions and energies of each person involved, stoking the fire, and collectively weaving the vision. It was this attentivity to the experiences and stories of the Ekuphumleni community, and the integration of their perspectives that made this project unique, sustainable, and ever evolving.
In my involvement with this project, I was reminded of the importance of going back, tracing histories, memories, and roots; reminded that remembering precedes ambition and vision. Reminded that we need to grow in, and down, before we grow out and up; that inner work precedes any work in the world, and that these processes are not separate. When they are allowed space to breathe and bleed into one another, healing, and lasting transformation happens. I am honoured to have witnessed this personally in my involvement with Return to Origin and the work done to date, and now most tangibly, in the culmination of this project.
In a circle centred around a mound of earth, offerings, and prayers, I got to bear testament to the changes and shifts in perspectives that the workshop inspired in participants. They spoke of dreams and of memories roused by ritual, of the power in storytelling and the healing in listening. They spoke of an awakened desire to serve their community, a revitalised value and respect for nature, others, and themselves. Of an inspired sense of dignity and pride in who they are, and where they come from. And of a hunger to know more. In hearing this, I felt fed, nourished by their stories, and reminded of the power in recreating intergenerational spaces that conjure up ancestral memory. In proudly erecting the bones of remembrance, we dismantle structures that have devalued our traditions and ways of relating to the world, and we remember that the stories that were muted and muffled, matter, and they need to be heard. That we matter and that we have something essential and wildly consequential to offer.
In assembling and documenting stories that transcend race, culture, and generation, we are sowing seeds that hold, within their husks, promises of a change and transformation that honours the root as much as it respects the branch, and celebrates its fruit.
- Angelique Michaels (Return To Origin)
“I just want to share my love of gardening with the children, so they can carry it forward.” – Tata William
The momentum began to build as we awaited the arrival of Return to Origin’s assistant facilitator, the sound recordist and photographer. Building trust was essential before people would open up and hopefully not feel invaded by people they did not know. We did two days of walkabouts in the community. Short interviews turned into an intimate breaking the ice and relationship-building experience.
We met several community members in many different ways: gardeners, cooks, community leaders, beaders and elders, who all opened their homes to us and were willing to sit and talk and have their photo taken. We bought produce from the women’s co-op, who plant by the local school. We left with armfuls of beets and onions. A full circle had been presented: the land, tilled, seeded, planted and grown, with a final bounty of vegetables directly from the earth and into our arms; to be cooked for the participants of the workshop over the next three days. The rounds of interviews were proof that this community had sustained themselves during a pandemic, despite its challenges. The stories began to flow organically, and the visions shared on sustainability, and handing down of knowledge, were hopeful and inspiring. Skill-sharing, knowledge, wisdom, stories and meeting heart-to-heart were the order of both days, and inspired and uplifted us all. In addition. During the pandemic more gardens and vegetables were planted, more fruit trees for children to eat from, and a closer community fostered, sharing and distributing more with a shared vision.
“I feel happy when everything is growing and when I sell it. It keeps me young! Gardening has made me independent. I can buy what I want. I have what I need. I don’t need to steal or beg for a job. Young people can learn this too.” – Phindiwe Hlawana (Women’s Gardening Co-Op)
“The difference between then and now is the sense of community and sharing. We must remember how to plant like we used to. Neighbours planting different things, sharing the produce and seed. So we eat.” – Ma Gloria
The day opens with a song and dance. The group are wearing coordinating traditional outfits. The performance energises the room and we are ready to move into circle and respond to a simple question that speaks to the theme of the day, Origins/Endulo, – “What land are you from”? Sharing creates a sense of voice and a safe invitation to speak. Participants are asked to recall a vivid childhood memory of food. This elicits recollections of time spent closer to the land, a sense of nostalgia and the presence of forebears who had fed and taught those in the room. Lighting a white candle to call in each of the 4 themes that frame this work is a simple intention from the community leaders. Origins. Separation. Seeds. Grow with me. This spontaneous ritual is embraced with reverence. We have entered sacred space. Intergenerational groups discuss the theme of Origins in an animated atmosphere. Dinner arrives, and we all take our place at the table.
“It’s good to be here. I love to be here. To be able to share. I have been brought closer to my ancestors. My friends now want to know more.” – Vuyolwethu
Participants arrive in beautiful traditional clothing: beaded headbands, necklaces, and bracelets. Three young men, in the youth group, sing to open the space for all. A powerful dream about the ‘return of the light’ is shared by elder community leader, Daphne, following the lighting of the candles yesterday. We enter difficult terrain; recalling the stories of separation from the land, loss and disconnection, through the ravages of colonialism, Apartheid and a brutal contemporary economic system. Raw emotion and articulation of injustice and wounding. A ritualised response holds the container, so that the wound can be witnessed without needing to fix it. Spontaneous singing and prayer directs grief and sadness into feeling. Blue candles are lit by all, to symbolise reconciliation and the healing of water, and placed in the earth mound.
“That spirit of sharing depends on love. It depends on self-respect. When we respect ourselves, when we love ourselves, then it is easy to share. Selfishness is darkness. Be willing to learn from the elders. Be willing to bow down and listen. Be willing to humble yourself through listening and respecting the elders.” - Daphne Mazosiwe
“I wish I could sing how I feel right now! I am so happy. To sit with this granny now, I feel so loved and lucky to be able to learn from her. I am happy to be here with these elders. Getting blessings and joy. We are learning from each other.” – Yondela
Once again, the honouring through intricate local adornments, make-up and clothing is clear. At the water, the invitation is to an intergenerational group to pour the sand away. Symbolic washing of hands in the river water, accompanied by singing. Fishermen share their insights on the vital part the waters play in sustaining the community; the independence it offers, despite restrictions around permitting. We are reminded that we belong to the land and the water, regardless of what human law and injustice might declare. Back at the community hall, the Ekuphumleni Manifesto emerges out of the circle: an extension of inter-generational discussions about what practices from the past will serve a sustainable future for the community, and which can be left behind. The results are powerful. A guide for living in this community which speaks to the solidarity, wisdom of the old ways and knowledge that arises from within the community’s own experience, rather than an imposition from without, of what must underpin any program of sustainability.
The final ritualized exchanging of seeds between elders and youth, the speaking of seed promises for action from adults, and the planting of these seeds in the earth-mound. It is humbling to hear participants express sincere gratitude for the opportunity to connect with each other, to have this special space made to learn from elders and sit in circle and for the therapeutic aspects of the work done to both heal and discover their own wisdom for creating a sustainable, healthy community. To find family and belonging.
“I say to the youth, when you want to learn something, come to my gate, and call for me!” - William, elder.
“I want to learn about our history. The way we used to live, so I can live and survive with that knowledge.” - Youth participant
Return to Origin in partnership with Ingcungcu Community, Kenton-on –Sea, will explore through the Sustainable Together project, community involvement in sustainability in the face of adversity in a post-Apartheid present. With a deep legacy of sons and daughters of the soil - and the origins of those who came before, and their connection to the land, farming and thriving - the community look to the past in order to heal and make sense of the future. The extraordinary grassroots work already in place and still to come will honor their origins. In the re -telling of the stories, the community knows that the intrinsic links between re-rembering the past and passing down this knowledge will not only bring healing, but also leave a legacy of hope for future generations.
“We have everything we need right here” - Zanele Mayiza, Teacher
In the past we embodied our connection to the land and its ways. Yet in living it, we may not have known its true value until, at the hand of historical processes, this connection to land and heritage has been severed; our ways of protecting and honouring them, forgotten. There is, however, the potential to re-member what has been severed; the potential to both deepen and expand our rela-tionship to the earth, our histories, our communities, and ourselves. Wholeness begins with an acknowledgement of what was lost, for it is in the loss of home, that we come to find it, and in be-coming who we are not, to recover who we really are. It is, as the old proverb echoes and reminds us, in the wound that the blessing resides. The work of recovering, rehabilitating and restoring rela-tionships to land, ourselves, each other, and communities, begins with reconciling the past. Discon-nection, and severing continues to reverberate in a post-Apartheid present where traumas to, and from, ourselves are still deeply embedded in our blood, bones and lineages.
“When the tree bears fruit everyone will benefit from it” - Tata Phixsle, Elder
Community involvement in processes of planting, harvesting and preparing food, contribute to a deepened sense of belonging, self-worth and an awareness needed to care for the earth and ourselves. Our fathers and grandfathers planted, and cared for the land. We have come to tell our stories. We have lived through the dangers and traumas of a single narrative, and by it, have witnessed many perspectives, practices and ontologies being wiped out. Wisdom and ways of relating to the world, silenced and forgotten. Yet, there are stories still to find expression in the world; stories with a light that, though dimmed, burns brighter; stories that once told, ignite the light in others. Our vision is to create a space for the holding and sharing of stories, and to foster with it, the beginnings of recon-ciliation and healing.
“When we work together, we grow together.” - Mbali Marais, Project Manager
The co-curated outputs of the Sustainable Together project with the community will include a sound documentary, and photographs, telling the stories of resilience, sustainability and remembering of self-worth through heritage in this community. This culminates in an exhibition celebrating the ex-traordinary grassroots work done to hold people together during the Covid-19 lockdown, and the shift towards a longer-term sustainable food- and care system that values the stories and well-being of those who are part of it, and the natural world that supports them, in Ekuphumleni. In addition we are calling in the creative artists, beaders, potters and musicians. These will form the backdrop for interactive sessions that demonstrate in practice what an ecologically sustainable system could look like when rooted in the cultivation of well-being, self-worth and purpose. We are spotlighting through this exhibition the community’s gifts as a collective, whilst honoring and celebrating the Ekuphumleni community's rich food heritage, memories of connection to the land and water, ex-changed between elders and youth, and a return to a sense of belonging to the land after the dis-connections of our recent history. At its core it is about giving voice to the hidden histories of this area, and leaving a legacy for future generations.