Food has a way of bringing people together. Not just across the dinner table, but also across communities and countries. It helps break down the borders between us. To foster unity and create positive change.
This is the driving idea behind Local Village, the brainchild and passion of Sipamandla Manqele. Working with smaller, village-level producers she brings indigenous African products to South Africa and South African products to the world.
Sourcing teff, plaintain flour, bambara ground nuts, raw honey and more from local farmers and co-operatives she brings them to city dwellers looking for the taste of home. Her vision is a series of production sites in villages raising incomes for communities across South Africa and beyond.
Sipamandla is from the Eastern Cape. Her childhood in Lusikisiki was in the country and on “wonderful land” where she dreamed of becoming the first woman governor of the reserve bank. It was there she learned humility, respect and appreciation for people with vastly different backgrounds, resources and educations.
The entrepreneurial spark was lit early. Her first business was opened and registered while she was still in grade eleven, producing toilet paper. This experience made her ready for business, but it came together with a big question. How can business be done in a socially responsible way? How can trade be for profit while benefitting the community and protecting the environment?
The path to answer that question took her through business and community studies at the University of Kwazulu Natal and two years working in an asset management company in Johannesburg. That experience gave her enough of a view of the corporate world. “Wearing a suit and going into shiny meeting rooms is great for about a year, but then?”
Questions of justice and equality, of how to see each other as people regardless of background were far more important. To find out, “how to stay open to different cultures and peoples and connect best. How can we reduce inequality by bringing products from villages and customers in cities together? This is really what I wanted to do and Local Village was the way to do it.”
"I learned to be humble, growing up in a local community with people of all kinds of education and background"
Local Village is riding the health food wave with its super foods, grains, honey and cereals in several markets, stores and online. Sipamandla sees the trend growing. “People are becoming much more aware of what they eat. That is partly about conscious consumerism. We want to know where our food comes from.”
While she sees people, her customers, following rapid trends, switching from the product or ingredient of the week to the flavour of the month, there is massive, unavoidable change. For instance, vegan eating is going mainstream and in the long term is here to stay. People will have to move to the plants and products that are available and sustainable as the climate changes.
And that change can be a positive experience, there are so many foods to discover. She has three favourite plant-based recipes.
For an everyday dish, Bambara Ground Nut curry tastes wonderful and is an excellent source of protein. For the uninitiated, this is a bean masquerading as a nut!
For breakfast, teff porridge, which is quite like a refined quinoa. It is gluten free and you can make it with coconut milk, berries or wherever inspiration takes you.
For a snack, Tiger nuts. This is a root masquerading as a nut. A really old plant, it is indigenous to north Africa - Egypt - and is now grown a lot in west Africa.
It may start with the food, but Local Village in Sipamandla’s vision is a fully cultural and social enterprise. In the next three years she will be building production sites working together with communities and groups like the Siyasiza Trust and Umoya. Vital to this will be maintaining food as a vehicle to achieve unity.
She came to different foods through culture and to different cultures through food. The books of Chimamande Ngozi Adichie are where she discovered Nigerian pepper soup. From trying the dish and getting to know the people who really know how to cook it she discovered wider Nigerian culture and now plans to go to Lagos to really get to know it.
That sense of exploration, of community building and social benefit through business sums up Sipamandla and Local Village. It is a vision combined with a feeling for real world change. “If I can reach three, four or five people, bring them together and make a positive change in their lives I will have reached the goal.”
We met Sipamandla at Lexi's Healthy Eatery in Sandton. Photographs taken at Montrose Nursery