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Tshepo Thobakgale Khumbane

The Order of the Baobab in

Tshepo Thobakgale Khumbane Awarded for:
Her outstanding contribution to breaking the circle of poverty by developing communities to use natural resources in order to face the challenge of food security.
Profile of Tshepo Thobakgale Khumbane

Tshepo Thobakgale Khumbane was born on 26 April 1937 in the rural area of Tshukudung, Limpopo. She proved herself to be a pioneer from an early age. She was the first in her family to matriculate and go to university; she qualified in social work. Her mother passed away while she was still a child, and her grandmother played an important role in her upbringing.

Khumbane is a grassroots-development activist and small-scale farmer. For more than 40 years, she has mobilised the poorest households in rural and peri-urban South Africa and Lesotho to fight hunger and malnutrition. She hosts mind-mobilisation workshops to empower the poorest to grow crops and vegetables within their homesteads using methods such as soil moisture retention and organic fertilisation. Her extensive networks evolved into a grassroots Water for Food movement.

Among many of her milestones, Khumbane worked at Jubilee Hospital in Hammanskraal between 1965 and 1966. As an activist she went to Lesotho in 1966 where she was working for Save the Children until 1973. She then returned to Jubilee Hospital. She focused on mobilising women working in primary health and also on food gardens. She held fruit tree planting and nutrition festivals to raise awareness.

In 1975 she went to work at Jane Furse Hospital in Limpopo at the health services development unit, which became the Environmental Development Agency Trust in 1987. Khumbane was also a leader in initiating food gardens, building houses for the needy, building mud stoves for baking and cooking for the destitute as well as training women to fend for themselves.

She was part of the launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF), since the African National Congress (ANC) was banned. The UDF was also helping to address hunger, poverty and women development, which were the huge challenges at the time.

Her political involvement meant she was constantly on the run from security police. She eventually hid at a farm called Sheridan-Paul Le Roux, which is in the Free State. There she helped the women to establish a crèche and a clinic; she mobilised youth to clean springs for water purification.

She is now a retired social worker who devoted more than four decades of her working life to help women take control of their lives.