Green Camp Gallery

Qudsia Mall and Vanessa Meintjes


Through telling the story of the Green Camp Project, Qudsia and Vanessa hope to inspire and empower other people and communities to transform their own, transformed urban spaces.

The Green Camp Gallery Project on Umbilo Road used to be a derelict site in a crime-ridden area. However, three years ago Xolani Hlongwa, with the help of a few friends took initiative, cleaned up, recycled and reused the trash, and created a hub of creativity and urban farming, proving that a handful of dedicated individuals can positively transform a neighbourhood previously plagued by crime, urban decay and social disintegration.

With this short documentary we hope to inspire and empower other communities to take it upon themselves to 'fix more broken windows' and transform similar places into spaces of creativity, hope and abundance by following in the Green Camp Gallery Project’s footsteps.

Watch the full documentary on our website and like us on Facebook

First stop was a six-year-old food forest and guerrilla garden turned community garden on the back of the Berea on Julia Rd. It began as a ‘guerrilla garden’, but gained municipal permission within a day by a stroke of luck.

“Guerrilla gardening is the act of gardening on land that the gardeners do not have the legal rights to utilize, such as an abandoned site, an area that is not being cared for, or private property.”

The man who took spade to earth that day is Frank Edwards, owner of the adjacent property and the 40-year-old Tropical Nursery in Sherwood, Durban. His lush garden, newly built natural swimming pool and sustainability demonstration site enchanted and enthralled the GC crew.

Sunday Tribune journalist, Terry van der Walt wrote about it in his ‘Get Growing’ column in July this year. His garden, and a great explanation of the Permaculture methods he uses, was featured again in this article.

Viva Eco-pools, Viva!

Eco-pools are ingenious as they serve multiple functions at once: water storage; food production and bio-mass production; aqua-culture (fish farming); recreation and nature habitat. No wonder they are becoming ever more popular as home-owners feel the financial pinch.

Dubbed ‘Pool-to-Pond’, the conversion of a chlorinated swimming pool to an eco-pool is a pretty straightforward exercise, just stop putting harmful chemicals in it! Next, instead of using a sand filter, the water is cycled through what is called the regenerative zone, where the plants in gravel beds do the filtration work.

We had a cup of tea with Frank whilst he shared wisdom mixed with his signature mischievousness. It is very evident as you look around, with a bumper sticker that says “KILL YOUR LAWN, GROW FOOD INSTEAD”, a sign in the garden that reads “#CORPORATESMUSTFALL”, and his all time favourite slogan “If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable!”

Needless to say a visit to this place is highly recommended. Contact Frank on 083 555 3552 for an entertaining, personal tour of this piece of heaven on earth.

We are currently mapping the garden and surrounding area, listing them using a tool called Carto, which will make it possible to read up about the various edible, medicinal and useful plants and trees found here.

Next stop was the Cliffdale Agrihub, a fine example of larger scale Permaculture methods and practices, up in the Shongweni area. This agro-ecology demo site is part of a project conceived and developed by Newlands Mashu Community Development Centre, supporting small scale and back-yard growers in semi-Rural and peri-urban areas around Durban.

Produce from the 1000 plus farmers they have trained and mentored is available on Fridays from pickup points in Durban North, Sherwood, Glenwood and Westville. To get your own fresh, local, organic, ethical and affordable veggies, contact Paula Osborn on 084 4444 657.

By Vanessa Meintjes
Photo credits to Thomas Wright

Informal sectorWho’s the prisoner?

This week our team's cinematographer, Thomas Wright and I invite you to join us on a journey. The location is Umbilo Road, situated in downtown Durban, a border of tar between the leafy residential suburb of Glenwood and the belching cogs of industry that make the horizon invisible for many days of the year.

StreetNo windows left to break

As we enter we have to assume a humble posture, head bowed to fit through the metal door frame. We raise our heads again to observe a flood of colours and textures, the juxtaposition of organic and industrial mingle together in an orchestrated chaos, ‘found objects’ repurposed, reframed, transformed and valued again.

PortalTrash to treasure

Weaving our way through the art installations and murals, we meet with the founder, Xolani Hlongwa and his partner Åsa Nilsson in the second-hand clothes store 'Bonnie & Clyde' housed within Green Camp. Xolani talks to us about how recycling, rehabilitation and stimulation are the main phases of building the Green Camp Gallery Project. This is also mirrored on an internal, personal level too where introspection is the name of the game.

Åsa explains how she came to South Africa on an internship to have a break from a structured life of office meetings day after day. When she met Xolani, she returned to Europe only to pack her bags, turning her back on the ‘safe and civilized’ northern hemisphere, not knowing the deep personal journey that adapting to her new life would take her on.

Xolani and Åsa - collaboration and love between different worlds

Xolani himself spent many years living and working in arts and culture in Sweden. He became disillusioned as his ideas could not reach fruition due to too much red-tape and the fact that his ‘target audience’ was not to be found in Europe but back home in SA.

Biko with guava treeGreen fingers on the pulse

Both speak of the need to deprogram and disconnect from the construct of time. In the western cultural paradigm, we say 'Time is money' and consider time and money to be a limited resource. This sense of scarcity pervades our every thought. Another western construct is that money makes the world go round. Consumerism for consumerism's sake, ironically, is totally unsustainable. This has led us to disrupt most of the natural world, with giant oceanic gyres of plastic visible from space and chemical pollution in our air and water.

Shrine to love

It is in this context that alternative modes of living and rethinking ‘success’ is what humanity desperately needs. The Green Camp Gallery Project brings this into the spotlight through their deeds and not just their words.

Local Food Programme, not World Food Programme

Green Camp Gallery has engaged with many organisations both locally and abroad. Within Durban, these include the tertiary learning institutions of DUT and UKZN, Greenpeace Africa, Citizen Gardens and the newly formed Active Citizen’s Movement.

Other exciting collaborations have happened with overseas organisations such as VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance), Goethe Institut, Amnesty International and Slow Food International.

One highlight for them this year was winning a medal for the most creative stand at the exhibition at Sustainable Living Expo organised by eThekwini Municipality this September.

Green Camp Gallery’s Sustainable Living Expo stand
Xolani pleased as punch with their medal

In early October, Green Camp Gallery collaborated with One Voice South Africa, where they hosted and trained a group of young school going entrepreneurs on the art and ingenuity of turning trash into treasure.

Qudsia Mall was actively involved in the project and reports:

"I headed down to Green Camp with my bag of tricks containing plastic wine glasses, a stationery organiser, a belt made from plastic bags and other plastic jewels.
Trashy craft materials

By using common household waste like 2l coke bottles, biscuit boxes and aluminium soft drink cans we showed how to make useful saleable items out of them. Xolani and Åsa had summoned the aid of a few crafty magic makers who were capable of such alchemy, myself included.

Featured project concepts:

  1. Plastic is fantastic- recycling plastic material
  2. Cut and paste Jewellery- recycling cardboard boxes into jewellery
  3. Can you do the "Can-Can" - recycling cool-drink cans into ashtrays and other objects
  4. Tyred of standing? - recycling vehicle tyres into seats with creative covers and artwork
  5. Recycling organic kitchen waste in the garden through composting

We made our way to a local NPO called 'One Voice'. They had hosted a group of students from various schools around Durban and outlying areas. They generously sponsored their transportation, board and lodge and organised skills and development training for them in various forms to get a feel of what the students had in mind through structured business plans produced by the students.

We collected the entourage of young entrepreneurs and walked them down the road to Green Camp where 'One voice' had agreed upon a crafty collaboration.

Åsa Nilsson welcoming the group into Green Camp Gallery

The day began with an introduction and tour of Green Camp and an orientation session by the founder Xolani. We then individually introduced ourselves to the students and gave them a brief bio on our lives and how we came to know and love all that is Green Camp.

After the intro and orientation session we held an ice breaker session around the theme of recycled materials where each student had to study the items to match the raw materials to converted recycled version once they’ve found the suitable partner. This engaged them to consider the uses of the waste materials and what they could possibly become and the activity promoted healthy interaction with each other.

The first phase of our recycling activity was where my Plastic-Fantastic team proceeded to create belts by plaiting strips of plastic bags and weaving them together onto a belt buckle. We also produced a stationery organiser, wine glasses out of 2 l coke bottles, bottle bags, gift boxes from the base rocket part of a 2l coke bottle.

The other groups made jewellery from biscuit boxes, ashtrays out of cool-drink cans, seats from tyres. Xolani gave a talk on composting organic waste in the garden, as well as the role worms play in the garden heap. Students made notes, engaged in productive teams to replicate all the items made in their teams and teach each other in a cross pollination of ideas through groups.

Happy kids with funky products

They flourished as they created magic by transforming trash into treasure and walked away with an item that they had produced based on our training and prototypes. The workshop showed them how to experiment with new things and to look at waste as a resource that instead of being tossed could be recycled and sold.

Feeling empowered to transform the world, earn an income and save planet Earth all at the same time is a 'win, win, win' situation thanks to team Green Camp and their partner in this venture 'One Voice'."

All photographs courtesy of Green Camp Gallery.

The Green Camp Gallery is about food security, care of the environment and grassroots action to counteract the increasing power and influence of biotech and GMO companies such as Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer. In the context of the World Food Day this past weekend has been a busy one for ACTivism in Durban, with three days of talks and events held by the various social and environmental groups around the city. We, therefore, decided to devote this week’s content to the happenings and event of the past weekend.

On Friday there was a press conference organised by the KZN Environmental Network (KEN), whose member groups include South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa), Earthlife Africa Durban, Timberwatch, Biowatch, SAFCEI, and Greenpeace among other groups.

The main purpose of the network is to focus on the myriad environmental issues that connect us all and provide present community perspectives around water and sanitation, energy, food, land and waste.

This was followed by a ‘People’s Assembly’ on Saturday at the Durban University of Technology, named "Seeds of Our Struggle." Affected communities of Durban and KZN gave testimonies as to the ongoing struggles they face on a daily basis, namely climate change, air quality, health, energy, livelihoods, development and food production etc.

Definition:A popular assembly (or people's assembly) is a gathering called to address issues of importance to participants. Assemblies tend to be freely open to participation and operate by direct democracy, and to form an alternative power structure when participants feel the effects of a democratic deficit in a representative democratic systems.

Discussions focussed around solutions and fresh ways to combine and realign forces against an economic system that puts corporate profits before people and planet.

A Day of Solutions concluded the weekend at Chatsworth’s Nelson Mandela Youth Centre, in celebration of the Global World Food Day and to mark the end of the ‘Monsanto Tribunal’.

The three-day symbolic "moral trial" was arranged by an international coalition of rights and environmental groups and includes people's assemblies in The Hague and around the globe.

US seed developer and biotech company Monsanto is facing charges related to "ecocide" in a symbolic trial being staged by anti-GM food activists in The Hague. The tribunal comes as Monsanto edges closer to a $66 billion deal with German chemical giant Bayer, to form the largest GMO and pesticide company in the world, dubbed a merger from hell.

Dr Vandana Shiva opens the People's Assembly

The trial also coincides with the release of a scathing new report which claims that it's not just Monsanto's products that have been harmful, but also that the biotech giant's political influence and lobbying efforts have contributed to a global erosion of democracy, environmental chaos and social injustice.

"This tribunal might not be legally binding, but it will highlight the urgent need for similar legal mechanisms to hold corporations accountable for the damage they cause in the pursuit of profit," said ‘Global Justice Now’ food campaigner Heidi Chow in a statement.

The Monsanto Tribunal will hold Monsanto & Co. accountable for their crimes against humanity, human rights violations and ecocide, no matter what name and form they morph into.

Green Camp’s Xolani Hlongwa and Åsa Nilsson (front centre), attending the World Food Day celebration at Chatsworth Youth Centre. Photo: Angus Joseph.

"This event evolved to become a networking gathering for people passionate about food security and social justice. There were demos with some lively discussions around how to induce the Youth Centre into a Permaculture hub, identifying the root causes of food inequality, and visioning around increasing food security in Durban /South Africa, all while presenting some solutions and celebrating each other.

We enjoyed the sun and the rain, had a tree-mendous meditation session, chatted about seeds and seedbanks and circular economies, saw the proof-of-concept for the juicycle, learned some tricks around making banana jam, shared some ingredients on non-toxic body products and a wonderful picnic in the amphitheatre.

The Food for Life crew dropped by on their rounds with some of their yummy vegan food, to go with the cassava and beans and stew. Thanks to all those that made the journey, it was a great day. To those that wished to be involved but couldn't make it, let’s make another one in the future."

Both being Durbanites who had spent more than a decade away from home, Vanessa and Qudisa - team Green Camp of the #CBStoryChallenge - became acutely aware of the negative changes that had occurred, when they returned. They decided that they wanted to reconnect and engage with their hometown via community upliftment projects and volunteering.

We frame our story by means of the ‘broken window’ concept, in the form of a short documentary made up of installments and written content, which goes as follows:

"Consider a dilapidated building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency for vandals is to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, squatters move in and light fires inside. This attracts further crime, drugs and prostitution thereby destabilizing the neighbourhood."

The Green Camp Gallery Project, (246 Umbilo Rd) used to be such a property. However, three years ago Xolani Hlongwa, with the help of a few friends took initiative, cleaned up and restructured the plot and made it a shining example of how creativity, urban farming and social responsibility can positively transform a neighbourhood previously plagued by crime, urban decay and social disintegration.

An excerpt from their Facebook page describes the work they’re doing:

"A hub of urban farming and green rehabilitated art. Using the materials left over from the house and donated material creating beautiful pieces such as a plant growing in an old shoe. It’s about recycling and rehabilitating old materials so that we show people how they can recycle their ideas, heartaches and challenges and make them useful in life."

During the project we would like to pose questions, such as:

  • What are the main difficulties/obstacles for initiating and running community upliftment projects?
  • Why are there so many prejudices against them?
  • How do they bring people together?
  • What kind of people are engaging at these places?
  • What have been the most rewarding aspects?
  • How can the ‘Green Camp’ concept be replicated and what resources are needed?
  • What other projects and initiatives exist in Durban and how do they connect?

By depicting the work, challenges and rewards of the inhabitants and volunteers of the Green Camp Gallery Project, our aim is to inspire and empower other communities to take it upon themselves to 'fix more broken windows' by transforming similar places into spaces of creativity, hope and abundance.

The GreenCamp #CBStoryChallenge team is comprised of Vanessa Meintjes and Qudsia Mall.

Vanessa Meintjes is a trained Permaculturalist and a self-taught horticulturalist. She was a goldsmith before gardening found her and told her she had green fingers and a memory for long Latin names, which surprised her no end. When she’s not designing or growing and planting, she plans events to do with growing and planting. She’s also an admin for Permaculture Durban on Facebook, the local "grow your own food brigade." She works on various consulting projects, has compiled a plant reference guide for use in landscaping and permaculture and is co-author of a chapter on designing food forests in ‘The Durban Forest’ published by the Durban Botanic Gardens Trust.

Qudsia Mall is an author, adventure sports entrepreneur and motivational speaker. She works with the youth and different faith groups to promote understanding and tolerance in humanity as well as delivering inspiration on self development and encouraging a positive mindset. She's originally from Durban but has lived for 14 years in the UK and Saudi Arabia. She now resides in South Africa where she runs her company 'Nomadic Spirit', is a vegan smoothie lover as well as a die-hard travel junkie.

With support from:

We thank our donors for making this storytelling challenge possible