‘Cactus Jacks’ on a social mission

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What started off as a hobby for 67-year-old Jansie van Zyl from Mariental has turned into a thriving little business with the aim of bettering the lives of impoverished street children in the town.

“This is not about money,” says retired Van Zyl who at the age of 15 grew his first cactus from seeds he got from South Africa.

“Ever since then I have this strange and passionate love for these little prickly plants. They make a lot of sense in the driest country south of the Sahara Desert because they hardly ask for water, yet they can turn any rockery or garden into something really special,” he says.

On his visit to Windhoek last week he was accompanied by two young boys with great future plans: Brendon Haman, 15, and Donovan Adams, 16, are being trained by Van Zyl in the finer art of growing cacti and other succulents and thereby earn some income towards making their dreams come true. They quickly became known as “the farmers of plants from Mariental, while others call them the ‘Cactus Jacks’.” Brendon has no doubts about what he wants to be one day. “A medical doctor,” he says without the slightest hesitation when asked by this reporter what he wants to achieve in life. “I see enough suffering around me every day in the south where the majority of people are living below the breadline. As a medical doctor, I feel I will be able to make a difference and serve my community well by supplying vital medical services. The communities in the south need upliftment and I will proudly deliver my portion one day,” he states.

Donovan also has now doubts about what he wants to become as the 16-year-old responded spiritedly, “A famous gospel singer.” He displayed his vocal abilities by hitting a few quick high notes.

“We are eternally grateful to Uncle Jansie for creating this opportunity for us to travel to Windhoek and get involved in every aspect of the business. He is teaching us well on how to grow these plants, look after and market them so that we can start saving to fulfil our dreams,” says Brendon. Amongst rows and rows of indigenous and imported cacti and other succulent plants the threesome express the need for such small entrepreneurship to help impoverished communities. “I have a case of four children now that have literally been dumped by their parents and we would love to help them by just supplying them with the bare essentials. Winter is creeping up on us and these children do not even have blankets, never mind food and clothing. I have made it my mission to help such families and the support for our project has been tremendous in Windhoek,” says Van Zyl.

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