Alexandra township – popularly known as ‘Alex’, or more colloquially, ‘Gomorrah’ (because of its perceived over-crowding, crime, and poverty) is a high-density urban area in Johannesburg. Famous for the people it has housed throughout history, including Nelson Mandela, Cyril Ramaphosa, Samora Machel, Bra’ Hugh Masekela, and other icons of jazz, Alex is also a hub for environmental innovation initiated by entrepreneur Paul Maluleke.
Today, visitors from all over the world visit Alex on tours led by community members.
The Alexandra Greening Route is a unique ecotourism, food security, and sustainability initiative in the heart of one of Jozi’s busiest urban areas. Motivated by a desire for Alex residents to be able to feed themselves, and benefit from entrepreneurship by earning an income from selling the produce they grow, Paul has been instrumental in establishing more than 20 community gardens in the area.
He saw an opportunity to combine the project with an ecotourism venture. Today, visitors from all over the world visit Alex on tours led by community members. Tours provide visitors with opportunities to learn about local culture and urban farming, while engaging in activities such as planting and urban clean-ups alongside residents. These initiatives are carried out in partnership with tour operators and other interested organisations. The benefits of the ecotourism venture are far-reaching for the community.
Skills and knowledge about water management and food gardening are also transferred to school learners through workshops and active engagement in the gardening. This sets them up for future self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship, and work readiness. Paul has been approached by various groups that want to learn about sustainable urban agriculture. This kind of project has the potential to eradicate the effects of urban poverty, as well as actively promote health through adequate, healthy nutrition.
‘If we can work together in global communities, with the little we have, we can change lives.’
Paul’s vision for positive change in Alex includes assisting other community organisations that support people in need. Produce from the gardens is donated to the Alexandra Disability Centre each day, to feed disabled people.
This unique green lung, in the heart of one of South Africa’s most densely populated urban areas, is a model for food security, sustainable business, and healthy living.