By Jairos Saunyama
A few kilometres from the late former president Robert Mugabe’s residence at Kutama village in Zvimba lies a unique homestead.
The neatly thatched boundary of the homestead tells a story of big things inside and this can be revealed as one enters the premises.
The big yard is home to a thriving permaculture project that has become an attraction to many villagers who live around — thanks to popular poet Linda Gabriel (pictured).
Gabriel, a well-travelled poet famed for the piece Sins Of Our Mothers, is behind this project titled Bontle Bahao that is benefiting a number of women and children in the surrounding areas though still in its infancy.
From the stage at Book Café in Harare, the dreadlocked poet has since relocated to the rural area on a fulltime basis where she is also overseeing the construction of structures on the big chunk of land.
“Bontle Bahao is a safe space for women and children where they can work, craft, decompress, birth new projects, grow food through permaculture and traditional farming methods. The project is birthed on the background of the plight of the rural Zimbabwean women in provisioning for the family — from working in the fields to fetching water from distant water sources,” Gabriel told Standard Style after a visit to the homestead recently.
Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living. It is a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone and anywhere.
Inside the big yard at Bontle Bahao are various plants, mainly traditional, growing lavishly, with the area still under construction.
Bontle Bahao has the tag Mapfihwa as its flagship, referring to stones that are used to support the pot while cooking using firewood, as traditionally done in many African societies.
The 35-year-old dreadlocked poet said the project was targeting mostly women and children in the area.
“The purpose of this project is to empower women to be self-sufficient, providing better access to financial independence through organic farming and human rights education. We want to change one household at a time, in so doing bolster food security,” she said.
“Overall, the project seeks to enhance the participation of women and girls in community development, decision-making, and facilitating behavioural change.”
For the past decade, Gabriel has worked in the arts industry as a poet and scriptwriter. She has organised events on the development of arts in Africa specifically in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Malawi. With her work as a poet, she toured extensively southern Africa and European countries such as Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Austria.
She, however, said poetry remains her favourite despite her newly found love — permaculture.
“I am still very much into poetry, but focusing on mentoring young people in the community. I understand the important roles played by various mentors that groomed and guided me in my early poetry years. This is the same I am doing as part of my social responsibility activities,” she said.
Gabriel said it was high time for local people to embrace the benefits of permaculture, adding that her dream was to see the concept going beyond Zvimba.
“The relevance of a vibrant women’s permaculture project is indisputable,” she said.
“For many years women have offered skilled services to their communities — for cooperatives, for entertainment, for education and activism.
“However, these contributions are often stereotyped as less valuable and seen as ‘just women’s work’ on the peripheries of development.
“In contrast, Mapfihwa advocates for women’s self-sufficiency and human rights across different communities.
“We believe women’s groups are crucial for gathering people towards a common goal while advocating for social change at many levels. Our audience is not geographically limited, Zvimba serves as a rallying point for the movement to mitigate food insecurity and champion women’s rights.”
Gabriel is holder of an Applied Drama and Theatre degree and has done a number of poems on both local and international stages. Her new project still requires financial assistance to fully realise her potential in the permaculture world as well as empowering local women and children.
With the assistance of three female interns and locals, the Zvimba community has already embraced the unique concept that is set to change people’s lives for the better in future.