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South Africa: City of Joburg demolished Mama Fifi’s urban farm, but she’s determined to start again

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Refiloe Molefe has vowed to build a new urban farm after the City of Johannesburg bulldozed the site she built in Bertrams. Video: Adel Van Niekerk

By Adel Van Niekerk
Ground Up
8 August 2022


Molefe, 63, began to build the Bertrams Inner City Farm in 2006 after she saw that many people in her community were going hungry. She approached the local council and asked if she could use a vacant two-acre plot of land in the Johannesburg suburb of Bertrams. The City of Johannesburg agreed.

“I was looking after the small children of mothers who had to go out working, but realised that these children were going to bed hungry,” she told GroundUp. Molefe decided to grow organic produce to feed these children. Soon the initiative took up all of her time. “I knew I could help more children and their families by focusing on growing food.”

With the help of the community and NGOs, Molefe installed taps and an irrigation system at the site, built greenhouse tunnels and a packing station.

Over the years, her urban farm became a success story for inner-city cultivation, winning several local awards and garnering accolades from organisations working towards food security. Her fresh produce soon became so bountiful that she was able to supply dozens of soup kitchens through a network of feeding schemes, and co-founded the Bambanani Food and Herb Cooperative Project.

Her farm’s success saw her approached by several universities to train students in urban agriculture, including the Tshwane University of Technology, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Johannesburg. She said she has trained thousands of students over the years. “When you compete with the youth, you’ll always learn new things.”

But after 16 years, the City ordered the farm to close immediately to make way for the construction of a R275-million Multi-Purpose Centre.

The fields were bulldozed, and the irrigation pipes, equipment and greenhouse structures were removed and dumped at a nearby site.

“I was devastated, I couldn’t even get out of bed the next day,” said Molefe.

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