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Jacqui Taylor, 56

Chief executive & founder
Rural Tourism Africa

Jacqui Taylor is the founder of Rural Tourism Africa, an information hub dedicated to highlighting tourism experiences on farms across Africa.
The company provides advice and guidance to its members, assisting them with marketing and promotion, and representing agritourism at governmental, tourism and organised agricultural institutions. Taylor has gone to great lengths to ensure that farmers understand the importance of agritourism in South Africa to obtain a secondary income and, likewise, that tourists understand and discover the natural environments on their doorstep.
She reflects on when she first began her career, and how much progress has been made: “We got agritourism on the map. When I first came in 2016, I was forever explaining the concept to people, but now they understand that it is about promoting agritourism to national and international tourists with the aim of benefiting the rural economy. Even with politicians it’s [now] on the map, because they realise its economic power.”

Taylor is working hard to help the industry overcome misconceptions about what agritourism means. “I always communicate that you’ve got to preserve your cultural traditions in rural areas. We’re not talking about building theme parks on farms — we’re talking about preserving the integrity of the natural environment of that community or communal life with the farmer involved. We absolutely do not want to disrupt a rural system.”

She says farm life has many perks. “Cities cannot cope with more people and it’s not necessarily better in a city. Covid-19 is a prime example of how everyone wants to come out into the fresh air to breathe, run around and source fresh, untouched food. I hope for our mental and emotional stability as a country that we can embrace more of this type of natural tourism.”

While much progress has been made in rural farming, Taylor believes there is work to be done in an industry still dominated by men. “Men, particularly certain groups of men, continue to be a challenge. I’m fortunate in that I deal with a lot of youth and women who introduce me to the right people. Even though I grew up on a farm and I speak perfect Afrikaans, I am perceived differently because of my accent. Another barrier is the reaction of some parliamentarians and politicians towards agriculture. It is a highly emotive subject in South Africa, but I believe we can deal with the agricultural component as a separate, non-political discussion.”

For those looking to enter into the rural development and agritourism space, Taylor recommends certain skills above others. “You need to have an interest in nature, farming or rural communities. You will also be relating to others on a daily basis, so your communication skills and ability to listen with empathy are critical. It helps if you understand things such as climate change and carbon footprints, the earth and where food comes from. Lastly, you need to be open-minded. It’s a very rewarding job — I love to see people’s happiness levels go up by doing very simple things.“

I hope for our mental and emotional stability as a country that we can embrace more of this type of natural tourism.

Author - Loren Shapiro
Nikki Brighton, 60

Nikki Brighton, 60

Nikki Brighton is renowned in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal for her outreach work, particularly concerning food. Having spent years volunteering on a personal basis in the Howick area, she uses her experience and networks to create a more ethical and sustainable food supply chain by connecting producers and consumers directly.

A love of helping others has always been in Brighton’s nature. When she was 11, she held a fundraiser in her back garden in honour of her teacher, who had died of cancer. “I raised R105 to donate to Cansa,” she recalls.

Now, at 60, Brighton carries that caring spirit into the slow food community she has helped to build in Howick and its township, Mpophomeni. She describes herself as a “locavore” — someone who knows the source of everything they eat. “I don’t eat a carrot without being able to say ‘thank you’ directly to the farmer,” she says.

Brighton runs Rekohowick, a Facebook group for farmers to post their available produce on and locals to place their orders on directly. The system seeks to eliminate food waste and packaging, and promotes a more ethical and transparent food supply chain.

She is also part of a group that began a bartering system in Howick and its surrounds. “Things grow like crazy in the Midlands,” she says. “The idea was to share the abundance.”

The concept has spread to neighbouring areas, with bartering markets taking place twice a week, where growers trade whatever produce they have an excess of. “The community building is phenomenal,” says Brighton.“It’s very inclusive, and you get to meet like-minded people.”

Noting a need to increase the resilience of people interested in growing their own food in Mpophomeni, Brighton and a group of friends began a fundraising initiative. Through this, they have been able to buy items such as water tanks, solar cookers and fencing.

“We aren’t trying to fix anything big, we are just trying to make individual people stronger,” says Brighton. “I think a strong individual in a community can have a much bigger impact than something like a feeding scheme.”

This initiative created a boom in food gardens, and inspired Nikki to write the recipe book Mnandi: A Taste of Mpophomeni. The book, which celebrates local cooks and gardeners, serves as a fundraiser for the community; it helps to buy seeds and fund education for farmers.

During the recent looting of KwaZulu-Natal’s grocery stores, Brighton and her community were able to see the benefit of the food system they have been working on for so many years. “Supermarkets had burned down and everyone was queueing to buy things like milk, but we weren’t,” she says. “This was an example of how resilient we are because we know where our food comes from.”

Brighton’s hope is for more South Africans to join the slow food movement. “We’ve got to change our diet, for climate change and biodiversity loss,” she says.

Along with eating a wider diet, she stresses the importance of human connection. “I’m all for anything that builds community,” she says. “Unless we have a strong community, we are not going to get anywhere with anything.”

I’m all for anything that builds community. Unless we have a strong community, we are not going to get anywhere with anything.

Refiloe Molefe, 61

Refiloe Molefe, 61

Refiloe Molefe says that although she grew up without parents, there was always someone in the community to take care of her. As an adult, she saw children in similar conditions — whose guardians could not afford to send them to daycare — and she thought: “These children are just like me, I can do something so they can get to play with other children like the ones with parents. I gathered them in my daughter’s garage so I could take care of them while their parents go out and find jobs.”

Affectionately known as Mama Fifi, Molefe describes herself as a people’s person, saying: “I love people. I don’t see any challenges when it comes to giving. It’s about sharing the little that you have with the next person. It’s so difficult for me to eat and see my neighbour going to bed without food. I think of myself — if someone had turned a blind eye to me, I wouldn’t be the woman I am. Because people did show me that they care, I can care for the next person.” She says she loves what she does and is passionate about helping people.

A month into the establishment of her creche, she realised that what the children really needed was food. So she went to Blue Ribbon to ask for donations. She was given more than 450 loaves of fresh bread, which she then distributed to the rest of the community in Jeppe and Belgravia. “But it came to my mind that bread alone is not enough. So I went to the department of social development thinking they’d have handouts to add. But they said that they don’t have anything.” Molefe, refusing to take no for an answer, asked instead for access to land that was previously used as a bowling green so she could farm it and feed the children nutritious food.

The farm grew and required more care, and Molefe eventually closed down the creche. She decided: “I’m not just going to feed the orphans. but I’m going to feed the community as a whole.” That is how she started her soup kitchen and the community farm — to feed the underprivileged and homeless. This was especially needed during the pandemic. “When Covid struck, a lot of people lost their jobs. We had so many long queues at the farm.” This inspired her to open more soup kitchens to ensure social distancing regulations were adhered to.

She continues to encourage creches in her neighbourhood to bring the children to come and learn how to plant from an early age. Molefe believes this will help children develop a greater appreciation for food and be empowered to grow their own food. It is not just young children who Molefe works with, but also students from the University of Johannesburg and Tshwane University of Technology.

“My dream is to have an agriculture academy and a bakery, because we have equipment. A lot of youth are unemployed and I want to train the youth and help them be self-employed and motivated,” Molefe says. She goes on to explain that her agriculture academy will not be limited to only young people, but will also include old people — because she wants to keep them moving and motivated.
She hopes to help alleviate poverty by creating jobs and inspiring people to start small and give people hope and purpose.

Molefe lives by the philosophy that we are the change we want to see in the world and that everyone has a responsibility to do their part. “If you want to see something good, start by doing it yourself so that you inspire the next person. That’s how we change the world.”

If you want to see something good, start by doing it yourself so that you inspire the next person. That’s how we change the world.

Khanyisa Booi, 38

Khanyisa Booi, 38

An activist working in the development space, Khanyisa Booi is a health communicator and campaign manager. She launched her e-magazine, Eve’s Apple the Mag, which has released six issues since its inception last October.

“I definitely think it was audacity that got me to start a magazine during the pandemic. I thought that it would be hard to break into the magazine industry, but I’m finding that the world is ready to receive and read the magazine,” she says.

Booi’s work in the NGO sector helped to build the networks needed to ensure her magazine would thrive. The magazine hosts a question-and-answer live stream on Wednesdays and the readership is growing thanks to these weekly sessions. “This is also a time when everybody is going online, so there’s a bit of competition for who’s going to see what, but I’m truly excited by some of the big NGOs who have decided to onboard their content in the magazine,” Booi says.

The magazine’s content focuses on sexual and reproductive health rights, and doubles as a repository for practical insight. “Our content is truthful and not complex — if you need it, you can use it,” she affirms.

Booi became a health communicator while working in food gardens for an NPO in Durban. This work in agriculture exposed her to the importance of health communication, which emphasised how struggles intersect. “It’s not possible to do work around agriculture without involving literacy so that people can understand what exists around them and how they can use it. The interest in health communications was realising how interrelated things are,” she says.

As a health communicator, Booi shares insights with community forums, such as how young women living in poverty are susceptible to being in intergenerational relationships. “My beginnings with health communications were in Durban, where I needed to start doing the work in communities around what poverty is, how it’s linked with sexually transmitted infections, linked with teenage pregnancy and linked with HIV, because girls were unable to negotiate safe sex with their partners,” Booi says.

Though volunteering at grassroots level forms part of her daily work, Booi knows that her work also has an impact at government and boardroom levels. “We all know how policy can live well on paper and poorly in terms of implementation,” she says.

Marrying policy and implementation is the foundation of Booi’s work. It represents change with rationale. She believes that the public health sector has much to offer South Africans, but that few know about these offerings. “For the most part, people think of public health as a place where they can never get help, but then public health also thinks of people as irresponsible. Those two things are not speaking to one another and that’s where my health communications really live,” she says.

Booi believes that Women’s Month is meaningful for South African women. “This Women’s Month I want all provinces to have free pads! Menstruators are not just missing out on school because of Covid-19 anymore, it’s because of periods too. I wish someone would say to all the girls they’ve got their sanitary towels,” she says. And more every day, Booi is fighting to be that someone.

It was audacity that got me to start a magazine during a pandemic.