I love Wikipedia. So when I wanted to learn something about Diepsloot, I went to Wiki which sent me to a New York Times article from 2009 entitled, Constant Fear and Mob Rule in South Africa Slum. Not a good start for what was next on my agenda.
Diepsloot, I learned, is an informal settlement outside of Johannesburg that sprung up after Apartheid ended in 1994. In less then 20 years, the community has grown to an estimated 250,000 people. It is both stunning and terrifying growth.
The city has, for obvious reasons, struggled to keep up and provide security and services to the residents of Diepsloot. The shiny police station sits half built, with funds tied up and construction halted. With expectations low, I set out on a tour run by some locals who are trying to generate support for their community projects.
We split up and toured different sectors: education, crime, and sanitation. Having studied public health, I opted for the sanitation sector and spent the day inspecting water sources and toilets. While there are huge challenges, I was super impressed by what I saw and also super inspired by how much the community is doing to help itself.
My favorite part though, was getting to talk to some residents in the downtime we had. I approached one woman to ask about the rows of greens growing in her yard and we had a lovely conversation. The woman, I’ll call her Golden, was actually simply visiting her daughter for a few months from Zimbabwe and all the people in that area were from Zim. She had her grandson in her arms, fast asleep. Absolutely precious and close to home for me.
She told me the greens came with the migrants from Zimbabwe and that you always need to bring a piece of home with you. They use chicken poo to fertilize them and water bottles to keep them warm (Joburg being considerably colder than Zim). The greens are something like kale, and are magical in their regenerative properties. You cut the leaves off and the stems keep growing. Then, when the stems start to flop over because they are so tall, you simply cut the top off and plant it. So the harvest continues. Magic.
Second favorite part? The food!! For lunch I had a plate much like I would have in South America–rice with veggie sides. Beet salad, creamed spinach, something with carrots. So yummy!!