Zainap Salie says if she had the ear of policymakers she would ask for more public spaces, more trees and a school curriculum that teaches the value of urban gardens. In the meantime, she’s doing her bit to green her community.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Zainap Salie has worried about the lack of green spaces in Cape Town, particularly for children, and how this has affected people’s mental health. Like many of her neighbours, she still lives in the same house she grew up in, in Salt River and where, in 2020, she helped start the Kipling community garden with the local community action group. Zainap works with her neighbours to care for the garden and is effectively coordinating it full time.
The decision to set up a garden in what used to be a lane of dumped rubble happened on 18 July 2020. Zainap says she will never forget that date — all the neighbours realised they could turn the space into a little oasis for the community. They had already started to use it, along with the street itself, as a Covid-safe environment for some of their community action group meetings. That day, the cleaning process began. A month later, the area was already starting to transform, with people bringing small plants and seeds.
The garden runs along the lane behind the homes of Kipling Street, where it borders a sports field owned and managed by the City of Cape Town. In fact, Zainap explains, the city owns half the lane. The other half is private land belonging to residents of Kipling Street. When the idea of the garden came up, the city was happy to have someone else look after the area and quickly gave the nod. As the project grows and new plans develop, there is a proposal to plant trees inside the sports complex. Zainap has sent a formal proposal to the local government for her team to plant and look after this space too.
Zainap is 57 and worked as a university administrator for many years. By the time the pandemic started she had enrolled in a university course to advance her administration skills, but put it on hold. The universe had different plans for her. She would become a gardener within a few months.