Letter from Mount Frere: Walk with me through my rural Botanical Garden

Zukile Majova

The current frequency of colds and fevers including the Covid-19 pandemic has forced rural communities in these parts – KwaBhaca and Emaxesibeni – to value medicinal plants even more.

Even the younger generation which initially had no interest in aloes, dagga and the world-famous Artemisia afra (Umhlonyane) is now interested in the protection of medicinal herbs.

For years Artemisia afra, which grows naturally all-over South Africa, has been used by all races for the treatment of colds, flu, loss of appetite, colic, headache, earache, intestinal worms and even malaria.

Here in KwaBhaca and in many African communities, people rely on Umhlonyane as their first response to treating Covid-19 patients.

This combined with gumtree leaves, dagga and African incense (impepho) is also the most popular combination for a natural steam bath.

The outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 resulted in people threatening the existence of these plants by harvesting them to sell in urban markets, instead of harvesting only what they need for the treatment of an ailment.

You can imagine then the excitement in our community when it was announced that the little town of Emaxesibeni (Mount Ayliff) was making its own botanical gardens in the interest of protecting herbs, flowers and shrubs that have been useful to local people for hundreds of years.

The Emaxesibeni Botanical Gardens in Ward 28 are designed around a 1.8-kilometre valley of biodiversity with plants, birds and flowers.

A natural stream runs over a bed rock that creates rapids and occasionally you can hear the music of insects, birds, trees and water singing in perfect harmony.

A wooden promenade meanders through the trees, the streams and the flower gardens almost acting as your tour guide as you lose yourself in this enticing beauty of nature.

Just like in any normal botanical gardens, visitors find a well-run institution that maintains a living collection of biodiversity for the benefit of scientific research and education.

The gardens also offer opportunities, especially to creative young people, to explore ecotourism developments in a community that is in desperate need of new job streams.

Most importantly this natural beauty is useful for picnics, weddings, photoshoots, hiking or simply taking a walk to clear your head.