ERF 81: TWO DECADES OF LIVING ON THE FRINGE was postponed due to protests at the University of Cape Town in October last year. The exhibition which features the works of Andre Laubscher and Dirk Winterbach, as well as, a series of photographs by Ashley Walters will  take place at the AVA Gallery, in Church Street, from 25 May to 25 June 2017. Here, Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti reminds us of some of the factors which motivated curators Pippa Skotnes, Lyndall Cain and himself, of the Centre for Curating the Archive, to take on this project.

The Tamboerskloof farm, also known as ERF 81, is an 8.4 hectare stretch of prime land on the slopes of Signal Hill. It has been functioning as an informal foster farm for over two decades under the care of Andre Laubscher. It is home to thirty residents, many of whom came to the farm as a last resort. The residents now face imminent eviction from the SANDF owned property, which has been managed by the Department of Public Works since 1991. Rumour has it they may turn the land into a guesthouse.There is also a national monument, the Tamboerskloof Magazine, on the site which, also, means that only the most minimal alterations to the surroundings should be permitted. One can only speculate on what would happen to it if the plan to develop the farm goes ahead.

In a city that has well defined zones, based on legacies of the past, the property development project will most likely be seen as just another gentrification scheme to push out society’s most vulnerable, mainly homeless children who have found sanctuary in the space away from the core of the city. Providing a home where children can be empowered through gardening and taking care of other living creatures is a social responsibility that the residents of the farm have assumed. Some of the farm’s senior residents like Dirk Winterbach and Andre Laubscher are, also, actively engaged in art projects on the site.

On visit at the end of last year, one  Tuesday afternoon, I found two families who had brought their children to the farm. Just a minute after arriving the children were already playing on the tree-house and, in the next, they were learning about the tadpoles found on farm.  I soon found that this was quite normal, here, as many parents bring their children to the farm after school. Even more people visit on weekends and holidays when the farm hosts markets.

The farm is home to an urban gardening collective, known as Tyisa Nabanye, which has transformed some of their lives as many of them were previously homeless. Their only wish is to be allowed to stay and carry on with the good work they are doing. One better, would be to get some kind of government support or sponsorship. If supported this is a project that can go a long way in sustaining the residents’ lives and guaranteeing food security for the local neighbourhoods. On Sundays, people come to the market to buy fresh organic farm produce. Being a non-profit initiative, such income is valuable for the sustainability of the farm project. On offer is a varieties of vegetables, eggs, coffee, homemade treats and, the opportunity, for children to pet the animals living on the farm. Most importantly, it is a chance for the residents of the surrounding local communities to mix and mingle with their neighbours. The farm is vital in bringing communities together.

A search of #erf81, #tamboersklooffarm and #tyisanabanye on Instagram reveals quite a rich archive of photographs by local and international visitors who have been to the site. In an age where so many environmental activists are campaigning for greener cities, while there is an ever-increasing pressure on the city for expansion and building, the farm provides a meaningful contrast in the middle of the Cape Town concrete jungle, and it is vital that it is protected.

The residents of the farm take pride in the property, which they understand to be a shared resource on which they welcome anybody interested in taking part. I was humbled by the way Andre Laubscher invited me to come to the farm, often, and participate or start my own gardening project.

The story of ERF 81 is that of a simple and basic life. It is a story of reclamation and ownership; a story of the social inclusion of those whose lives society has turned its back on. It is easy to politicize the story of Tamboerskloof Farm as its survival depends on political decisions. As the late Kenyan founder of the Green Belt Movement , and Nobel Prize laureate, always argued, “the environment is tied to issues of democracy.” This is a story of hope.


Header image taken by Ashley Walters


Cape farm may move for guest house.

Cape Town community farm residents face eviction.

Maathai. W.M. 2006. Unbowed. London: Clays Ltd, St Ives Plc.

There is a Military base in Tamboerskloof and this guy lives there with a bunch of abandoned children and animals.

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