For those who do not know me, my name is Delina (Dee), and I am a rising senior at Providence College – double majoring in Global Studies and Public and Community Service Studies with a minor in Black Studies.
I have now been in Cape Town, South Africa, for a few days, and I have finally adjusted to the time change. Being back in my favorite place in the world has me extremely grateful to Providence College and the Feinstein Institute for Public Service for the various research grants I have received and for choosing me to be the trip leader of the Global Service Learning trip.
Through the Global Service Learning trip, I will be taking part in a course at the University of Cape Town called “Social Infrastructures,” which includes various site visits and focuses on what it really means to engage with the local community in an intentional way. I took this course last year, and it introduced me to some of the most resilient communities I have ever encountered. I will also be spending an extra two weeks in Cape Town (one being this week before the group arrives and one after the group leaves to go back to the States) conducting two research projects. The first is with my adviser, Dr. Nick Longo, and the second will be alongside Nazeer Ahmed Sonday, a farmer and political activist at Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) – an agroecology site. I will be conducting interviews and focus groups to collect data in order to build a case for PHA to submit to the United Nations so that it can hopefully gain status as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems Site (GIAHS).
My first few days here have been full of lots of reading, research, and taking some time to become acquainted with this area of the city (since last year, I stayed a bit closer to the university). But, as much as I love to adventure around to coffee shops and take in the fresh (45 degree, YES, IT’S COLD HERE) air, this first week has to be full of research. As I sit in my room reading articles and taking notes on Philippi Horticultural Area, outside my window sits Lions Head – one of my favorite mountains in South Africa. Hiking is my number one favorite past time and although the mountains (one of my favorite parts about Cape Town) are calling me, I must do research. Being able to research in my favorite place reminds me of what a privilege it is to be a student of Providence College and the opportunities that have been provided to me by this institution.
Becoming a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System site (GIAHS) is not easy, and it requires a lot of support from not only the members of PHA, but also the City of Cape Town itself. One of the major reasons PHA desires to gain this status GIAHS is to have an international arm of support against City developers. PHA is a very special place because a little over a quarter of its surface area is a seasonal wetland. Through my research, I have found that it has a great history and heritage in agriculture. In the 1650’s the Khoi and San nomadic tribes would let their animals graze over this land, and in the 1850’s the Philippi Germans came and began agriculture here. They used various heritage techniques, one being no-till farming. However, during the apartheid state in South Africa thousands who were not considered to be “white” were forcibly relocated to this area known as the Cape Flats. This area became and still remains a place full of informal and formal settlements leaving less and less land for farming and greater food insecurity in Cape Town.
The land that remains (a little over 3,000 hectare) is the last of the land over the aquifer. This is important because this is what makes PHA so great for farming. The aquifer replenishes itself and allows over 4,000 farmers in Philippi to produce about 80% of the vegetables to the City of Cape Town, which is just about 200,000 tons of food. This is why PHA is known as the “breadbasket” of Cape Town. However, over the past few years developers have been attempting to gain permission to create housing developments on the remaining land over the aquifer. This is severely detrimental for a couple of reasons. First, it would deplete the only remaining land over the aquifer, which would not leave any land for agriculture. If no land is left for agriculture, the City would have to import vegetables and the prices would severely increase. Second, it would deplete livelihoods. This would cause more than 4,000 farmers to lose their jobs and their source of income.
Because of all of this, over 25 local organizations have formed the PHA Food and Farming Campaign against the City developers. The spokesperson of the campaign, Nazeer Ahmed Sonday, is who I am working alongside in this research. Although the PHA Food and Farming Campaign just recently had a large victory over the developers this past February/March by winning a court case against development, their battle is far from over.
This is where my research comes in. The interviews and focus groups I conduct will lead to data and narratives to be analyzed so that PHA can apply to be a GIAHS and hopefully gain status and increased protection against developers.
The end of this week will be filled with perusing through the South Africa National Library for important documents, going to the Cultural Heritage Museum, meeting on UCT’s campus with other researchers who have done work in Philippi, and forming more interview documents. This first preliminary week is all about setting the groundwork to propel me into researching alongside the activists and farmers in Philippi – so it is hard not to be excited. I am also preparing to do an Instagram and Snapchat takeover through PC’s @friargram account, so look out for details on that.
The rest of the PC group arrives on Sunday and then class, “Social Infrastructures,” will begin. I am really looking forward to class beginning and for the group to arrive! We will have an extremely packed schedule once class begins! I am quite busy but enjoy balancing all of these diverse roles!
Until next time! Sending a lot of love all the way from South Africa!