Who knew plump pumpkins would be key to fighting crime?

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Who knew plump pumpkins would be key to fighting crime?

A Durban community has beaten back the bad guys with garden forks and spades

Lwandile Bhengu

Fed-up with criminals using a tract of land as an escape route after committing their dodgy deeds, a community in Durban is fighting back with garden forks and spades.
But instead of going after the criminals — who’ve left the western Durban suburb of Pinetown, especially school children, constantly fearful — in mob justice style, the community has gone after the land itself, converting it from a plot of crime into a 38m patch of plump pumpkins, cabbages and cucumbers.
Not only is crime down, the vegetables grown there are given to the needy in the area. The veggie patch also serves as a training ground for aspirant small-scale farmers.
Over the past three years the once-vacant land, situated in Leeds Crescent in the vicinity of Pinetown Boys’ High, became a hotspot for criminals who preyed mainly on pupils walking by.
“At first walking through here was unsafe. We walk up and down this road and we have been targeted by muggers. They’d come out of the bushes and attack us and steal our valuables,” said Lele Ngcobo, a matric pupil who uses the area as a short cut to the local taxi rank.Ngcobo said that since the start of the green patch initiative in February, there has been a marked improvement in safety.
“There are less suspicious people walking around,” he said.
Another pupil, Thokozani Ndimande, chimed in: “This is very helpful because it will help the environment and keep the criminals away.”
Andreas Mathios, of the local neighbourhood watch, said there had no reports of muggings since the garden initiative started.
“The last report came just after Christmas last year,” said Mathios.
A Pinetown police captain, Leon Matthysen, applauded the initiative. 
“We appreciate the community’s contribution to the fight against crime. That bushy area is used by school kids as a short cut and now it is safer for them”.Resident and caretaker of the patch, Reggie Alexander, spearheaded the initiative. He has since roped in others in the area to tend to the crops at what is called “Eden Restored”.
The bushy land was cleared to give pupils a “safe passage”, he said.
But Alexander also realised the garden had more benefits for the community.
“We are teaching people how to grow vegetables, but more importantly teaching them how to teach other people.
“It’s breaking dependency. People don’t have to be reliant on, or resort to, stealing in order to feed themselves and their families and it also beautifies the area,” said Alexander.53-year-old Bekithemba Maphumulo – a part-time plumber – loves tilling the earth and seeing his vegetables grow.
“We as black people believe that in order to live we need to live in towns. We are prepared to take the knowledge we gain here back to where we live, so that people can start believing that you can live through the soil.”
Thembinkosi Ngcobo, head of the eThekwini Municipality’s parks and recreation department, is impressed.
“We welcome any community action that not only beautifies the community but also has an educational value. Where possible, the department always tries to work with communities in such initiatives,” he added. 
Ngcobo said that this was not the first time a community has taken a piece of barren land and revamped it.
A few years ago a man in Umlazi, south of Durban, had done something similar by planting trees and flowers at a disused park, which has since been revamped by the city.

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