Ubuntu Lives in Mickey Linda

one woman’s calling to feed the hungry

One soup kitchen in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, is proving that it doesn’t require much to help the unfortunate

In Brief

  • Mickey Winefred Linda (60) used her social grant to start Yiza Ekhaya Soup Kitchen in her home in Khayelitsha in 2009
  • Each day 250 people including school children pass through the soup kitchen for meals
  •  Ideally, South Africa is considered a food secure country, but the reality is the opposite
  • Through crowd funding and volunteerism, Mickey is among the only three owners of hemp houses in South Africa
  • With very little resources, Mickey has taken on other issues affecting the community 

“We need more space!” Mickey Winefred Linda called out from the foyer of her new hemp house in Khayelitsha, “Space would help scale the soup kitchen and start new projects for needy people in my community.”

Mickey who recently enrolled computer lessons for sponsored by Shoprite is 60, but her zest and constant state of animation make that age just a number. It was late October, and Mickey, one of the most amazing caregivers we have ever met, was doing what she has been doing for the last seven years: fighting for the lives of poor children and inspiring them to aim for a brighter future. In this fight, the elderly and the sick have not been left behind.

uSpiked visited Mickey at her soup kitchen on a relatively hot day. The sun’s reflection glinted off the tin shacks next to Mickey’s RDP house, which partially hides the hemp house. It was surprisingly cool in the new house. Lance van Rooyen – a hemp activist who is leading volunteers busy putting the final touches to the house – explained that the coolness was due to hemp.

“Hemp offers great insulation and regulates moisture … the RDP houses are either too hot or too cold,” he said.

Mickey’s house is South Africa’s third hemp building. The project, which is steered by biodegradable packaging company GreenHome, Hemporium and architect Oliver Wolf, aims to showcase the potential of hemp as a cost effective, superior and sustainable alternative for building houses.

But, growing of hemp is illegal in South Africa although several government-approved trials have been completed with varying degrees of success. Hemp and Marijuana both come from the species of plant called cannabis sativa. Biochemically, hemp has lower concentrations of the psychoactive component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which is considered to have a wide scope of potential medical applications.

Lance and Hemporium’s founder, Tony Budden, are among the activists pushing for more awareness of the benefits of hemp or rather industrial cannabis, and laws that would decriminalise the plant. The success of their on-going campaign would make it legal to grow and process hemp locally.

Yiza Ekhaya's new hemp house showcases the potential of industrial hemp as a sustainable and cost effective building material for RDP housing

For Mickey, learning the benefits of hemp seeds and oil (for instance, the plant’s high content of omega 6 & 3 fatty acids) has had huge benefits. Adding hemp seeds and oil boosts the nutritional value of the food that is given to the hundreds of people who come to Yiza Ekhaya Soup Kitchen.

Not so long ago, MaMickey grew her own vegetables and herbs in the backyard of her RDP house. The hemp house now occupies the space, and the vegetables (mostly herbs) are perched on her fence in small containers. This high-spirited woman has learnt to do with little; turning crumbs into loaves is second nature to her.

“It’s hard to get fresh vegetables and the variety is limited. I have learned this method, which allows me to farm vegetables on minimal space,” said Mickey, referring to the plants on the fence and troughs.

Thirty years ago Mickey migrated into Western Cape from Transkei, now part of the Eastern Cape, to work as a domestic worker. She was a live-in domestic worker and on weekends she would visit her four children who lived with relatives in Khayelitsha.

Mickey is learning how to grow vegetables in small spaces

“The difficult circumstances for the majority of people living in the township was glaring and still is. The hunger caused by joblessness and poverty … I had this burning desire to serve my community and the question was, how?” said Mickey.

The answer was always in her. Her bottomless appetite for helping the needy stemmed from old ‘ubuntu’ values inculcated by her grandmother who brought her up.

“My grandmother was a generous and compassionate woman. I remember she would sit outside her house on many summer days with a gourd of sour milk, which she would offer to passersby. For her it didn’t matter whether you were hungry or not if you passed by you would get something to drink or eat.”

As she approached 40 years of age, Mickey temporary left her job as a domestic to work at a crèche in Khayelitsha where she learned about nutrition and first aid. “I felt happy working in the community. If only I could find the resources I needed to realise my dream of opening a soup kitchen,” Mickey recalled thinking.

December of 2008 found her restless. Time was running out, and she felt she needed to start living her purpose, “I had a R800 social grant due to arthritis and I was seriously considering using the money to start the soup kitchen.”

The decision was made for her in January 2009 when a young girl literally crawled to her. Mickey took her in and discovered she had taken medication without eating. “I fed her and she said I had saved her life. I did not sleep that night.”

Soon after, Mickey gathered a few women in the community and began cooking. “We fed 50 people on the first day,” she said.

South Africa is considered a food secure country. But the national figures hide the reality at the household level. According to a report by Oxfam, one in four people regularly go without a meal – that would be 25% of the population. And it’s worse for women because they often earn less and have limited access to jobs.

Mickey worried constantly about how she was going to keep the kitchen door open. Her grant money could only do so much – actually very little. Besides, her children also needed care.

Enter Julia. “The first time I met Julia, she was preaching in my bus. We became fast friends and shared our personal aspirations. One day, in 2009, she called and offered to buy groceries for the soup kitchen I had told her about,” said Mickey.

Complete strangers have replicated Julia’s kindness and generosity more than 100 times over to help prop up Yiza Ekhaya. The queue of hundreds of hungry school children and clinic referrals at Mickey’s door is proof, and so is the hemp house.

There’s still much for Mickey to do. Recently she has taken on other issues affecting her community by sheltering two homeless children and providing after school care service to three others whose mothers work long hours. For expansion, she has applied for access to some idle land nearby. With the additional space, Mickey would be able to build an aftercare facility and start a sewing project. For these plans to take off, she would require more than the regular donations and her old age grant, which she often puts into Yiza Ekhaya.

Asked if she is inadvertently perpetuating the culture of handouts, Mickey clasped her hands, “But what do I do when someone comes to me and say, ‘Mama, I am hungry’. I can’t say no!”

“There are exceptions of course. The referrals from the clinic don’t need vetting because I have a verified list, but I do random home visits to ensure that the people coming into the soup kitchen especially on the weekends are indeed helpless,” said Mickey.

Mickey is teaching the young women who work with her leadership skills and healthcare knowledge she gained from attending capacity building programmes run by Mamelani Projects, an NGO that works in local communities.

“Passing on my knowledge ensures continuity of our work. I would like to think they would, in turn, teach other people.”