Mkhulu Macingwane Mchunu (85) works in his garden where he grows the vegetables he believes are keeping him healthy and strong. (Credit: Sandile Ndlovu / Health-e)

Durban dietician Raeesa Seedat says fruit and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre.  Yet they are seldom the first choice in modern eating.

Seedat explained that traditional rural communities throughout South Africa saw people living on farms or in open spaces where they kept livestock such as chickens, cows, sheep or goats. These animals were used for dairy, eggs and meat. They did subsistence farming, planting their own fruits and vegetables.

But rapid urbanisation has led to a drastic change in lifestyle and dietary habits of South Africans, with most of the changes being undesirable.


Mkhulu Macingwane Mchunu (85), a rural villager, believes urbanisation has done away with the land people need to feed themselves. People no longer keep livestock or grow their own food.

Mchunu lives in Luvisi township. He believes it is harder for the youth of today to find healthy traditional foods, as they have to buy most things. Few choose to use the little space they have to plant fresh vegetables.

Seedat is in full agreement with his observations.

“Imfino yezintanga (pumpkin leaves) help with high blood pressure, constipation, stomach aches and general health. For those struggling with high blood pressure, I would recommend pumpkin leaves. They also improve eyesight as was proven by a report research done by Kenya’s Kenyatta University in 2007. Indigenous African leafy vegetables offer quality nutrition and have the ability to heal. I would warn people against chopping their vegetables before washing them because water-soluble vitamins like vitamin B complex and C are lost in the process. Adding sodium bicarbonate to vegetables kills vitamins B complex like Vitamin B1, B2 and niacin,” warned Seedat.

Mchunu believes too many people eat food that is “utiligi” (meaning ‘too sweet’ or containing unnecessary sugar). Seedat agree, adding that processed meats such as polony, viennas and sausages were unhealthy and should be avoided.

Rapid urbanisation has led to a drastic change in lifestyle and dietary habits of South Africans, with most of the changes being undesirable.

“Urbanisation has taken away the vital land and the advantage of living in the rural or farm land areas for the most of us. We fed ourselves with healthy foods that contained good nutrition, and food that healed. Wild fruits like Izibute, Izindoni, Amaviyo are now hard to find, and they are not sold in shops or in the market in town. When I grew up you saw them growing on private land. Our children are moving us close to towns or cities where they can get better jobs and services from government. And then they lose the chance to plant fresh foods. Instead, if you look around the township, “izichonco” (fried fast foods) are sold almost on every corner,” Mchunu said.

He bragged that at age 85 he walks without a stick. He is in good health because he eats ubhatata (sweet potatoes) and izindumba (Hugo beans), which he says help him stay strong.

Mondli Ngcobo (25) lives with Mchunu, who is his grandfather. He describes the food Mchunu eats as mostly bitter.

“My grandfather does not fry food or boil it too much. At least my grandmother tries to cook food that I can also eat. But most of the time they eat bitter leafy greens like izintanga, ucadolo (baby black jack) and imbuya. These grow in summer. Beside the pumpkin leaves he has planted fruit trees of amakhiwane. Umkhulu does not eat my kind of food, but maybe that’s the reason he is still walking without a stick and he works for long hours in his garden,” Ngcobo said.

An edited version of this story appeared in The Star.