nomonde pic lores©Nomonde Buthelezi


Interview with South African food activist and researcher Nomonde Buthelezi

Awakening curiosity – Interview with South African food activist and farmer researcher Nomonde Buthelezi on academic research and the transformational impact of co- research. Read the SLE study on agency in South Africas food system, co- authored by Nomonde Buthelezi.

SLE: Nomonde, did you have previous experience with research?

Before Nicole [Teamleader SLE] I actually never thought of co-research [before]. It was a new term for me completely. But I have been exposed to academics doing some research, as we get referred to academics because (of our work in the township). (..) And when someone wants to do an interview (...) they would come and ask questions and we wouldn’t know what happened afterwards. With Nicole, it was different, when she approached us, I actually remember asking her: What do co-researchers do? (laughs)

You know, I've never done co-research before. But when we got to talk about it, it actually sounded more interesting and made a lot of sense to me. Because there are academics who write books on our knowledge and we're not even credited sometimes. Or sometimes you see pictures of someone you know being used. Then, we get to tell the person that we saw their picture in an article and they were not consulted before or they never even had the privilege of reading what was written about them.

We felt exposed and used, if I may put it bluntly like that. So, with co-research it was completely different and it was also more accepted in our community. Especially, because we were part of it. You know, people that they know, people that we live amongst and people that actually speak the same dialect. Because with academics obviously, their language is completely different and also how they explain certain terms (...). It was completely accepted and it was easier for us to work with the academics, because the research was being done by us in our community.

SLE: How has co-research been different from typical research?

If someone walks into my house and asks me what kind of problems or challenges I am facing, I'm expecting some kind of help, because they made the time to come and ask me. With co-research we were able to find solutions together. (...) We identified the challenges of the problem and we were able to start finding solutions or start identifying which doors we should knock on, to help and bring about change.

We are now at the process of starting to implement or seeking ways (...) to start implement towards action to resolve those challenges or to help with the issues we identified. We farmers we do not text people. So, it is important to have somebody that can actually speak a language that you understand. Co-research is also more about the experiences because (...) it’s not a one-on-one interview where you ask a question and you get a response. With co-research you start a conversation and you actually get to dig deeper or get more background information, which gives you a broader perspective or even a clear direction towards the question that's being asked.

That was the beauty of it as well. It brought even me much closer to my community. Because even though I was born here and grew up here, there are certain things that I've got to find out and learn about my community, which never even dawned on me before I got to do co-research. It awakened some kind of curiosity in me and some questions were raised. We always used to just accept things as they are and thought this may be how it's supposed to be. But now, with co-research you get the feeling that you actually have a say. You know, that you actually matter. I am able to ask, why it is done like this or state how I prefer it to be done through this whole research. Before, we just accepted things the way they were. So, it was a bonus if I may put it that way.

SLE: How has co-research impacted the fight for fairer agricultural policy?

Now, we are looking at food councils. We are at the second wave of the Covid-pandemic and the first one it hit us hard. I mean, it was new for everyone. We went on a hard lockdown. You had to stay at home and didn’t have access to your farm. I had to take a taxi to come to the farm. I was actually not allowed to come because I didn't have a permit. Then only later, the government said that agricultural people were also essential workers and therefore could be issued with permits. But to obtain the permit, I would have to take a taxi to the city center and I would not even have a permit to be on the road to get there. Then I would have to stay in a long queue risking for the authorities to say, this is the cut off, come back tomorrow. (...) Now with the easing of the levels, at least we have access to our farms.

SLE: Overall what was the most important outcome?

Well, I am not just doing this on my own. I have co-farmers now and we created social platforms because we can't meet physically at the moment. On these social platforms, even today we had a simple discussion on the reasons for green leaves turning black. Before co-research I would just go onto google and google it, but not everyone has access to that. But at least most people have access to for instance, WhatsApp and Facebook. So, the most important outcome is the sharing and the sisterhood and the brotherhood that is created.

“... there are academics who write books on our knowledge and we're not even credited “

Nomonde Buthelezi describes the challenges
   they face
because of industrial, non-localized
   food systems

“With co research you start a conversation and you actually get to dig deeper”

South Africa Cover Front A4 k
SLE Overseas Study
"Agency in South Africas's food systems

“We always used to just accept things as they are and thought this may be how it's supposed to be”