Kurai Felix Mukaro, popularly known as ‘Uncle Bravo’ is making waves in his community thanks to his organic herbal and vegetable gardens, and he is taking the younger generation along for the ride.
By Tatenda Kanengoni, bird story agency
Sixty-year-old Kurai Felix Mukaro breaks into song with a group of children stationed at a colourful vegetable stand along a vibrant street in Mbare, a neighbourhood in the south of Harare.
“Herbal stand, vegetable stand!” they sing, encouraging potential customers to purchase their products. Commuter omnibuses drive past occasionally, drowning their youthful voices.
“This is strictly organic,” explained Mukaro.
Known affectionately as ‘Uncle Bravo’, Mukaro said that the harvested goods sold at the stand are grown entirely using permaculture methods – a holistic and more sustainable approach to growing food, that takes into account the wider ecosystem.
The name ‘Uncle Bravo’ came from his work with youth during the 1980s.
“I worked a lot with young boy scouts, and they started calling me Uncle Bravo. Bravo in scouting refers to the brotherhood of honour,” he explained.
Three things have always been consistent in Mukaro’s life – working with young people, mindful living… and music.
Born and bred in Mbare, he fondly remembered an encounter that sparked his love for reggae music.
“In 1980, when Bob Marley came to Zimbabwe, he performed at Rufaro Stadium and he visited my street, Chinamora street…I was 18 years old. I looked at him like someone who is out of this world, he was mystical. From there, I started liking reggae music a lot, I liked especially Rastafarian livity which is a righteous way of life and I thought ‘this is the way I want to live my life,’” he exclaimed.
Part of his “righteous way” of living is now manifest in herbalism, a practice that runs in his family.
“My grandmother was a herbalist, I didn’t know much about herbs but it inspired me to watch her heal people,” he said.
When COVID-19 hit Zimbabwe in 2020, the lockdown restrictions left a lot of families in Mukaro’s community without a consistent income stream. This did not sit well with him.
“It came in my dream that we purposefully seek out any spaces where there was water. So, there was a place nearby with a borehole and it had become a dumping ground. I said to the children, ‘let’s go and clean the space up.”
And so, almost magically, they did.
“We started removing the rubbish and created a garden.”
Mukaro gleaned crucial information from a permaculture workshop organised by Nora Müller, one of the trustees of the Mbare Art Space. As a result, he and the young team were able to incorporate permaculture into the design and bring the garden to life.
“It is real art but art which pertains to agriculture. The art is in the design of the beds which we are making – not only the traditional square beds – and we are also doing the art of plant companionship, which is a combination of certain plants which are working together,” he explained.
Mukaro continued to seek out abandoned spaces in the area and created more gardens under an initiative named Kura – a socio-artistic enterprise for children transferring ecological, social and emotional intelligence through art, music and permaculture.
Permaculture design principles contribute toward fighting some of the impacts of climate change, including land regeneration.
“Most of the herbs have got roots which are good for the soil, they are very nutritious. This is strictly organic; chemicals have long-term effects including chronic diseases, and chemicals also damage the environment. We don’t want fertilizers, it is not easy to rid the effects, so we use composts instead.” he said.
With five gardens now set up in Mbare, Mukaro and his team have developed a steady rhythm of operating which includes collecting discarded plastic bottles and recycling them into containers for some of the herbs.
With the pandemic restrictions relaxed, the Kura team have also incorporated a commercial arm to sell their produce. A sizeable hamper of vegetables and herbs cost 1950 Zimbabwe dollars (one to three US dollars) and customers interested in purchasing the herbs and vegetables visit the artistically laid out vegetable stands strategically placed along the busy street.
Mukaro referred to the stand as “our information centre”.
“The idea came about through the Mbare Art Space, who knew architect Simba Mafundikwa. We were discussing permaculture and they asked, ‘what would you require?’ and I said a market point’,” he explained.
Seattle-based Zimbabwean Architect Simba Mafundikwa happily obliged and helped design the vegetable stand.
“The Veggie Stand was inspired by the need for a beacon in the already established urban gardens that were created by Uncle Bravo and the children in the area. His desire was to have a stand that can be assembled and taken down on a daily basis and display products in a unique way. Our goal was to also collaborate with artists and artisans at Mbare Art Space and the neighbourhood. We worked closely with Nora Müller with input from Moffat Takadiwa as well,” said Mafundikwa.
Mukaro is proud to be taking the younger generation along with him, on this journey.
“We are not doing things for us, it’s about the kids. Once the kids learn methods of sustaining the environment, they will carry these skills into adulthood, tomorrow they will be good leaders,” ‘Uncle Bravo’ explained.
bird story agency