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When Big Zuu lent a hand at a community project that’s spreading the gardening love 

The rapper and TV chef joined forces with YouTube’s Black Voices Fund and headed to a local community garden to celebrate Mandela Day.

18 Jul

In partnership with YouTube.

“Nelson Mandela once said ‘a winner is a dreamer that never gives up’,” British rapper and award-winning TV chef Big Zuu proudly proclaims while standing over a vegetable patch in north London. To honour the legacy of the South African anti-apartheid activist and politician this Mandela Day, Big Zuu, along with five other famous faces, teamed up with YouTube’s Black Voices Fund and The Nelson Mandela Foundation to make real change in communities around the world while spreading Mandela’s call to action for social justice. Even better, YouTube and BVF have created an original series, The Mandela Project so you can see for yourself how each celebrity gets on.

Mandela Day first started back in 2009, when Nelson Mandela himself requested that to honour him, instead of celebrating his birthday, people should use the day as an opportunity to take action and inspire change in their local community through acts of service. The legacy lives on today with this year’s theme being: “do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are”. 

Nelson Mandela’s influence was groundbreaking and his activism shaped the world in ways that are still felt. His fight to end the apartheid in South Africa, which saw racial segregation continuing until the early 90s, led to his imprisonment from 1962 to 1990. For most of his life, including in prison, Mandela carried out acts of service.

“You can do what you can with what you have”

“It’s important for people of all backgrounds to get involved in Mandela Day,” says Nelson Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela who features in The Mandela Project, “and so we hope that people can do an act of service by using their hands or using their minds or using their resources.” 

While Mandela is known globally for his activism and advocacy, one aspect of his life that might be lesser-known, especially to younger people, was his love of gardening. During his years in prison, Mandela would garden and grow food, often for his fellow inmates and staff. It soon became a life-long passion, giving him “a small taste of freedom”. And so, to honour Mandela’s adoration for the outdoors on Mandela Day, Big Zuu and his friends help out a local food grower and her niece to transform their community garden. Their aim is to inspire a new generation of black growers to find solace in growing, and to reignite a connection to nature.

In the show, Big Zuu shares that he didn’t have a garden growing up and he’s not alone. According to the Office For National Statistics, one in eight people in Britain had no access to shared or private gardens during the pandemic, and Black people were four times more likely than white people to have no access to outdoor spaces at home. On average gardens in London are smaller than anywhere else in Britain. 

Similarly, during the apartheid in South Africa, access to farmland for Black people was limited in favour of the white population. And while changes were put in place to rectify this after segregation, over two decades later, the impacts are still being felt. Only 4% of individually-owned farmland in South Africa is held by Black people who make up 80% of the population. 

For many, accessing nature and growing isn’t always simple. While community gardens across the UK are on the rise,  half of England’s land is owned by 1% of the population, with the aristocracy being the biggest group of landowners.  And yet the mental health benefits of being in and around nature are undeniable – research into ecotherapy has shown that it can help with depression. 

With a hand from Big Zuu, these London growers are proof that you don’t have to own lots of land, or even have a private garden, to enjoy growing and building communities – you can do what you can with what you have. Whether that be helping out at a local community garden or city farm or just enjoying public parks, just like Mandela’s gardening legacy, we can all find joy, peace and solidarity where you least expect it.

This Mandela Day, YouTube’s Black Voices Fund is honouring the late South African president and anti-apartheid activist with an original series celebrating Black creators and culture. ‘The Mandela Project’ follows six famous faces as they head out to meet people who are making a difference and keeping Mandela’s legacy alive. In one episode, TV chef Big Zuu helps out at a local community garden and learns how growing can bring people together. Watch the show in full at the top of the article or on YouTube here.