New film on South African initiative plants seeds of hope


- Tara Sharpe

Image: Rosina M., Hleketani Community Garden, Jopi village, South Africa, 2014.

Hleketani translates as “thinking” in the local xiTsonga language of northern Limpopo Province in South Africa. A new documentary, The Thinking Garden, is giving Canadian audiences a chance to think about how women in a small South African village have faced the challenges of climate change and poverty and gained a measure of control over their lives through a unique farming collective.

Update: The audience for the March 1 official launch was well over capacity; the hosts will be offering a second screening, free and open to everyone, on Wednesday, March 15 at 7 p.m. in the same location.

For 25 years in a village in N’wamitwa, South Africa, three generations of women—currently ranging in age from early 40s to over 80 years old—have sustained the Hleketani Community Garden, which in turn has fed their families and built a strong sense of community in the midst of repeated droughts, poverty and serious health issues.

Directed by Métis filmmaker and UVic professor emerita Christine Welsh (gender studies), and written and produced by Welsh and UVic historian and writer Elizabeth Vibert (history), The Thinking Garden tells the inspiring story of South African women sowing seeds of change.

Professor emerita Nancy Turner (environmental studies), the Trudeau Foundation Scholar at UVic, says, “The remarkable story of this garden and the women who brought it to life will be an inspiration for countless others.” The Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, an initiative of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, also voiced support during screenings for the new documentary.

Beautifully filmed by Vancouver cinematographer Moira Simpson, The Thinking Garden showcases the remarkable story of 30 women farmers building self-sufficiency, growing affordable vegetables for community, nourishing those living with HIV/AIDS and helping to offset some effects of climate change in their region.

Its official launch in Victoria on March 1 coincides with the 25th anniversary of the community garden. The first screenings kicked off in Halifax and Toronto during Black History Month in February. Screenings will also follow for mainland audiences during the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (March 8-12) and the Vancouver South African Film Festival (March 31-April 2).

The farm and other grassroots projects in northern villages of South Africa were the focus of the rural portion of an innovative UVic field school two years ago founded by Vibert, who has been doing community work and research in the region for more than six years.

Basani Ngobeni, Vibert’s research collaborator and the film’s assistant director, will be at UVic for the launch. The event will include a Q&A with Welsh, Vibert and Ngobeni. A cookbook is also available.

Read more about the garden and the film or follow @thinkinggarden.

Also see a recent story from local media coverage on the film.

- - -

Free public screening and official launch
When: Wednesday, March 1 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: David Lam Auditorium (A144), MacLaurin Building, UVic
Sponsored by Centre for Global Studies & Departments of Gender Studies and History
More info:


In this story

Keywords: agriculture, globalization, film, world cultures, human rights, history, gender, field schools, coop, food, diet, africa, community, research

People: Elizabeth Vibert, Christine Welsh

Related stories