Blessing Pondani, 30, originally from Malawi and now based in Greenwood Park in Durban, started working at the Engen Riverhorse Valley Convenience Centre when the filling station opened its doors in May last year. He started off as a general cleaner until one day when he inspected the land around the filling station. "I told the boss that this was fertile land and that we should use it to grow veggies."
Pondani said his boss, Senzo Mfeka, liked the idea so much that the next day he returned with spinach seedlings.
The man with green fingers started the process of growing the spinach. "The boss bought fertiliser and then we took the small plants that were starting to grow and we transferred them to the ground and a month and three weeks later we had our first bunch."
Pondani, who now juggles his day between cleaning and the garden, said when the spinach is ready, he harvests it and gives it to his colleagues. "We have had so many requests to sell the spinach but we are not allowed to. My boss takes the spinach and he gives it to disabled people around his community."He has added carrots and plans on adding tomatoes to his garden.
The father of two said he realised at the age of 15 that he had green fingers. "The problem was that I did not have money but a lot of people supported me. When I was a little boy I knew that I was going to do something in agriculture," said the man who left school after grade 10.
He came to South Africa in 2013 in search of greener pastures. "I earn R3 000. It is not enough, but I really enjoy what I do. Every morning when I get to work, before I start cleaning, I start in the garden. I water it and inspect the veggies. I do the same before I leave at around 16:00."
Pondani encouraged other Engen garages and businesses to use the land around them to plant veggies to feed their staff and surrounding communities. Mfeka quipped that "this is what happens when you bring a farm boy to the city". He said when the spinach is harvested he takes it to his neighbours, orphanages and old age homes in KwaMashu and nearby communities like Newlands.
"On weekends when shops are closed, I tell the staff to put the spinach into the pot and we share a meal. We also try to identify needy communities where we can make a difference. "Mfeka said so many motorists and customers had asked to buy the spinach, "but we tell them that it’s simply not for sale".
His manager, Brian Dlamini, said he was proud of Pondani. "We immediately liked the idea because it benefits the community and we got a chance to use the land around the filling station." Dlamini said the owner, Mfeka, plans to write the word "Engen" in large letters using the spinach.