Mr Koos Hlongwane, photographed with his Okra plants at his vegetable garden, which was formerly an illegal dumping site.
Although he does not have a distinctive posture, Mr Koos Hlongwane (45) of Musina Skoonplaas is an unsung hero who has turned a local illegal dumping site into a cash-making initiative.
His inspirational story started four years ago when he unsuccessfully tried to stop people from dumping garbage next to his home. “I know that illegal dumping has many negative health effects and I had to come up with a plan to get rid of the problem. Some people thought I was out of my mind when I started to chop away the shrubs with my axe and carry the trash to the municipal dumping site with my wheelbarrow - a process that took about two weeks. The rest is now history as everyone now talks about my beautiful vegetable garden which was formerly a dumping site.”
Having been unemployed for some years, Koos says the income helps to keep him going as he does not have to depend on someone else to earn a living. “I am thankful to the Department of Agriculture for providing me with manure and seedlings free of charge. I have also attended workshops on planting and taking care of vegetables free of charge, which plays a meaningful role in advancing my agricultural skills.”
Koos is presently cultivating Okra, which he believes will have a positive financial spin-off when it becomes ready. “My main customers are my neighbours and hawkers who sell vegetables in town. The garden keeps me busy as I spend most of the time looking after my vegetables.”
He encourages unemployed community members to stand up and do something instead of waiting for the government to give them jobs. “Everyone can come up with a unique plan to make money. Who ever thought that an illegal dumping site could be turned into an ever-green vegetable garden? We all have to wake up and create opportunities for ourselves.”
He added that despite limited resources, he planned to venture into large-scale farming in future. “Farming is my number one passion and I have no doubt that one day I will make it.”