On the western slopes of the Magaliesberg, just outside Rustenburg is the Tlholego Eco-village and Learning Centre. The centre has been at it for over 25 years, and was the first learning centre in South Africa to offer training in Permaculture and ecologically sound land management practices.
Driving up to the learning centre eco-management techniques such as water harvesting contours and swales on either side of the driveway are immediately apparent.
Tlholego’s on-site training programmes focus on ways to improve people’s lives without impacting negatively on the environment. These are the fundamental principles of biosphere management and therefore it is inspiring to find such a place within the shadow of the Magaliesberg Mountain. A range of programmes have been presented at Tlholego and participants have included youths at school, university graduates, unemployed youth, and retrenched miners. Attendees come away not only with practical skills but an experience of working as a collective and in tune with nature.
The Centre produces a variety of up-cycled pots and jewellery, energy saving cooka-coolas and dried organic products.
Added to the mix is a year-long community and cultural youth program where youth from South Africa and volunteers from Germany join the team to experience a multi-cultural working environment.
Stephne Fain and her husband Paul Cohen are the co-founders of Tlholego Eco-village. Stephne studied Clinical and Industrial Psychology at Wits University. She continued her studies in the US for a further seven years at the Centre for Wellness and Body-Mind Integration. She continues to apply herself to implementing local wellness and nutrition programmes on a broad community level.
Paul on the other hand studied Mechanical Engineering at UCT. Ten years ago he returned to Stellenbosch University to complete a Master’s degree in Sustainable Development, reflecting on the previous years of development work at Tlholego. Paul will tell you it is unlikely there is a “silver bullet”, or one answer to address the impact on human lives in times of escalating environmental change.
Paul is clearly inspired by the technologies tackling social and environmental challenges. Tlholego continues to draw on global expertise to advance knowledge of local food economies and climate smart infrastructure, creating a living laboratory where knowledge is shared and experiments are improved on continuously.
At the centre find a set of wonderfully structured thatched roofed spaces namely; a mini amphitheatre together with a walk about garden, an open air conference space (lekgotla), a designer food station and dug in open-fire kitchen built in consecutive circles together with a fish pond, more vegetation and the sunny spot in front of the old farm house kitchen. This is the heart of Tlholego. The name Tlholego comes from a Tswana word meaning “inspiration from Nature”.
The conference space was designed to replicate the Tswana traditional “lekgotla” in architectural style. Lekgotla being a gathering place where matters of communal importance are discussed and resolved. Many of the buildings are constructed from the rich red soils of this area. Here one can relax on one of the wide sun-baked earthen benches looking out into an African sky. This is a place of many discussions, a place of gathering, a place of learning.
On any week day when no training takes place, one is greeted by a hive of activity. Some woman will be sitting in the sun preparing products for the market, such as organic herbs and health teas. Others will be working in the organic garden or at the tree nursery. The young men guided by the older men will either be working on land and building maintenance or one or other infrastructure project.
The kitchen is the health centre of the village. The philosophy of food preparation is driven by Stephne Fain, who says “healthy soil makes nutritious food, good eating and good living”.
All are welcome to visit the centre even if it is just to experience a day in the simple harmony of this special place. (Prior booking required – Tel: +27-72 118 7357)