Wits Food Sovereignty Centre




Wits Food Sovereignty Centre: Communal Kitchens, Food Gardens and Space of Dignity for Students

This project aims to address the widespread hunger challenge at Wits University and the broader inner-city of Johannesburg through an indigenous knowledge approach to food sovereignty. To do this, we envision creating a food sovereignty centre that is an eco-centric (renewable energy, water harvesting, zero waste) space of dignity for students to control the food they grow, prepare and eat. This will involve renovating the Sanctuary building and its kitchen at the university, building an additional kitchen as well as establishing two food gardens on campus. This space will then be used as a model for creating a food sovereignty pathway to transform Wits university, as a champion in society of zero waste, zero hunger and zero carbon. The breakthrough we make at Wits will knock-on into the inner-city, other universities and the country as a whole. Food needs are climate justice needs!


The Current Situation

There are thousands of students at Wits who are homeless and food insecure. Students have been fed in a parking lot with long queues with no place to eat and cook their food. This has been an experience of indignity. Out of student and academic-led struggles, Wits University is willing to support a transition to a space of dignity for hungry students. This is an opportunity and a challenge. It means providing communal kitchens, having more food gardens, providing a space where people can sit and enjoy their meals. This will provide an alternative to an approach that has treated students as passive recipients of handouts and as outsiders in the university.

The Idea

What is Food Sovereignty and Why is it Important?

Many households in South Africa do not have enough healthy food to eat. In Gauteng it is estimated that as many as two-thirds of poor households do not have sufficient access to food. This is because many do not have the money to buy enough food. But at the same time, even if we do have money, food keeps getting more expensive at the shops. So in order to keep having the amount of food we need for our families, we have to earn more and more to buy the same amount of food that we did before!

Here we see that even though as humans our bodies need the same amount of food, it keeps getting harder to get it.

Why is this so?

There are a number of reasons for this. Basically, it is because how our food is grown, bought and sold is not controlled by people and communities, but mainly by big corporations. The food that we buy at Pick 'n Pay, Spar and Checkers is sold at prices that give companies big profits, instead of at prices that help small farmers and make sure that communities can have healthy and affordable food. So in other words, the reason many people are hungry in South Africa is not just because they don't have the money to buy food, but because they don't have any control over the food system.

So what can we do?

We can do something! What if we said, “Ok, let us not be dependent on other companies and shops for the food that our bodies and those of our children need, let us take control of our food by growing what we can ourselves in various ways in our communities!” This means that we can aim to build food sovereignty.

What is Food Sovereignty?

Sovereignty means the same thing as independent: it means that we as people and communities control how we grow, share, sell and eat our food. So we do it democratically and together, rather than it being controlled by corporations. 'Food security' is a term that we hear a lot from policy makers, politicians, businesses and so on. It basically refers to whether or not households have access to sufficient food. But food sovereignty asks why there is hunger in the first place? Who produces food? Who benefits from its production? Who controls the food system? What are the environmental effects of how food is currently produced? The concept originated with the largest social movement in the world, La Via Campesina (Movement of the Peasants), and has been defined as “the right of all peoples to produce and consume healthy and culturally appropriate food which has been produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. It is also their right to define and own their own food and agriculture systems.” It means reducing dependence on chemical inputs produced by corporations, local independence with seeds, forming supply links through cooperatives, so that a new system of producing and distributing food that serves human need is created.

The Plan

Our goal is to launch a Food Sovereignty Centre at Wits University that will address the issue of hunger by creating an eco-centric space where students have control over their food. The Centre will serve as an example to society of advancing food sovereignty and climate justice. The aim is for students to have a space of dignity where their hunger is destigmatised. This will involve building communal kitchens and outside eating spaces and using these in creative ways. The food that students will be growing, preparing and eating will be culturally appropriate and healthy. The Centre will become an alternative space for student life where important conversations around food politics can be had. The space will also have routine cultural events such as poetry, music, movie screenings and other performances. It is the hope that the center will become a food sovereignty hub for the inner-city of Johannesburg, with an inner-city market supporting small-scale farmers and a site where resources and ideas can be shared and innovative research can be done.

We currently have one kitchen housed in the Sanctuary building, which we have renovated, equipped and recently launched (June 2018). This was made possibly by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands who generously contributed funds to equip the existing kitchen. However this kitchen is not sufficient for all students who will be involved at the centre. We therefore embarked on fundraising activities to assist us in building an additional modular communal kitchen. We have raised funds from one of South Africa’s most prominent playwrights, Mike Van Graan, as he generously donated proceeds from two of his plays towards the centre. These funds, along with funds raised through our Candystick moneybox, will be used for building the second kitchen.

Our priority for the centre is to build a modular communal kitchen, an outside space for dining and socialising as well as two more gardens for growing food. Thereafter we will start work on the second phase,  which involves building a second modular communal kitchen toilets/washrooms, the construction of an amphitheater, an indigenous seed bank, agroecology gardens and a research space at the centre. These renovations/phases will be done in a way that incorporates sustainable practices that work with nature. This includes indigenous and agroecological food gardening, water harvesting, renewable energy and zero waste.

For this project, we aim to acquire the necessary funding to begin the first phase of building the Food Sovereignty Centre which will include building one additional kitchen and, an outside dining area and establishing two agroecology food gardens on campus for food and for training. These gardens will be the catalysts to set up at least twenty more gardens at the university. The Co-operative and Policy Alternative Center has a memorandum of agreement with Wits University to complete this project.


Donate R100.00 Or More

  • PREPARING THE SOIL: There is strength in numbers! Thanks, you will receive a mention on our social media platforms!

Donate R500.00 Or More

  • PLANTING THE SEED: Thank you very much! For this contribution you will receive a mention on social media as well as your name written on our wall of sponsors at the centre! (15cm)

Donate R1000.00 Or More

  • WATERING THE GARDEN: For this generous contribution you will receive a mention on social media, your name written on our sponsor wall (30cm) and a personalised letter.

Donate R5000.00 Or More

  • HARVESTER: Your generosity is incredible! You will receive a mention on social media, your name written on our sponsor wall (60cm), a personalised letter as well as organic seeds to start growing your own food!

Donate R10000.00 Or More

  • CLIMATE WARRIOR: You are a true food sovereignty and climate justice warrior! For this contribution you will recieve a mention on social media, a personalised letter, your name written on our wall, organic seeds AND an invitation for a tour at the food sovereignty centre during harvest time

Donate R20000.00 Or More

  • MOTHER NATURE: WOW! Your support for our cause is extraordinary! You will receive all of the above and one of our gardens will be named after the individual responsible for this donation.

About us

The Co-operative and Policy Alternative Center is a not-for-profit section 21 Company. Our vision is to build human solidarity to sustain life and a grassroots driven, just transition for system change.

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