“Healing comes with a lot of truth and demands you to be honest with yourself; it’s difficult”, reflects Nontobeko on our last healing fields session for 2021. She sees healing as a personal endeavour, where one needs to develop their own tools and use their natural talents to have an intentional healing process. “The more I healed, the more I realised I’m not healed.”
Working in the broadcast and media space is fast and robs one of the slower and silent things in life, says Nontobeko. After missing her late grandmother, she was yearning for stoep conversations, homegrown vegetables and many things that brought about nostalgia. “The ground was starting to connect with me. I never thought of myself as a grower.” She started her journey growing cannabis and herbs but started to just enjoy watching things grow. Nontobeko takes self-love and nurtured approach to her healing, limiting expectations of herself and outcomes. “The healing I wanted is about freedom”.
Her love for gardening and planting stems from her own search for healing remedies, herbs and plants. However, she finds that gardening also connects her to her ancestors, who worked on farms (often under exploitative conditions), growing food and herbs. “I believe every time I touch the ground; I feel her introduce me to others in my family that touched the ground.” She has taken it upon herself to reclaim that part of her lineage and explore her healing through working the land while also sharing these practices with the community around her. “I’m reclaiming much in my lineage that was exploitative or healing. Wherever I go, it matters that I know where my umbilical cord is embedded.
Higher Ground Africa is a yearning for history. I want to take my people with me because they also had dreams that were not realised. I want to continue the legacy and the work. It extends to my lineage.”
She describes her practice as an unexplainable force that pulls her physically to the ground – what she called being rurally rooted. “I want Higher Ground to be a farmland and consistently available healing space that resonates with those who need it.”.
Not forgetting the importance of honesty in people’s personal journeys, she reiterates that solitude is important for one to understand themselves and begin their healing journey from a truthful place. “Sometimes we don’t have the right words. Sometimes we need solitude and to feel through until we can communicate what we are really feeling. Sometimes we are forced to put our healing into words but sometimes healing involves a lot of touch.” Nontobeko encourages the use of clay in healing, as indigenous knowledge systems of healing involved a lot of sense and touch. “Sense is a part of us- whether in pain or mourning, we always create – whether song or visual art.”
Higher Ground Africa highlights that “as Africans, we have been told to reject the rural. And our education tells us that.” Whatever the modality of healing practice, it matters to be truthful in our healing and learn from indigenous practices.
Nontobeko is a storyteller, urban gardener and broadcast creative curious about Indigenous knowledge systems, particularly via ethnobotany and African spirituality. Nontobeko received the IUDF seed funding grant administered by SACN in 2021, through her ecotherapy gardening community called Higher Ground Africa. Through Higher Ground Africa, Nontobeko hosted a series of Sun-Day Gatherings, where intimate tours of urban farms and gardens in Johannesburg were held to showcase the city’s indigenous food economy, highlighting herbs and indigenous plants not available in supermarkets. The project demonstrates the power of connecting contemporary Africa to nature, farming and collective healing, all of which stems from her upbringing in KZN where she was raised by her grandmother.