Tribute to Paul Bruns: Growing food, growing trees, growing people

Paul Bruns, the recipient of the 2014 Inyathelo Award for Philanthropy in Rehabilitation and Job Creation, sadly passed on 22 January 2022.  Inyathelo remembers Paul with great respect and fondness, and highlights his remarkable project which taught practical horticultural and life skills, mainly in correctional service facilities. It enabled prisoners, parolees and youth at risk to take responsibility for themselves, their environments and their futures.

Tribute to Paul Bruns: Growing food, growing trees, growing people

Paul founded his non-profit organisation Hlumelelisa in 2003. Its name is derived from an Nguni word meaning “to nurture new growth from a dead shoot”. His vision was to upskill people so that they could take care of themselves, make a positive contribution to their communities, and help create a greener South Africa.

Hlumelelisa was initiated on a shoestring budget at Leeuwkop Correctional Facility in Johannesburg. If offered a nine month training programme for which hand-picked attendees received a recognised horticultural qualification.  Participants learnt skills ranging from organic vegetable  gardening to laying irrigation, as well as life and business skills. They gained self-respect and marketable work abilities in turn. This programme had been expanded to more prisons, each with their own nursery and training facility. Several graduates have become  training facilitators,  another former offender founded his own nursery, and several graduates have been employed by a landscaper.

“I know for me, that when I went to nature, I discovered there was purpose,” said Paul in the video created when he received the Inyathelo recognition. “Trees have always been a passion of mine. It wasn’t about trees, however, it was about people. You do the crime, you do the time, but you need a second chance. Some of our students tell us we saved their lives. Very few inmates come back to prison, and that makes me feel that the journey has been worthwhile.”

Another important aspect of the programme was donating vegetables and trees to pre-schools, schools and community organisations. Students learn to be generous, and experience the fulfilment that comes with giving. Giving back also promoted restorative justice, as students, who may have harmed these communities now work to rebuild them.

Paul’s son and daughter, Walt Bruns and Claire Hugo, had both been a part of the Hlumelelisa team for the 18 years of its existence. They said the video created  by Inyathelo was  played at Paul’s memorial service: “It captured his essence.” Paul was also recognized by eTV as a South African Hero and by SABC2 as a South African Visionary.

Hlumelelisa unfortunately had to close its doors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic as access to the training sites, in correctional facilities, was prohibited.  Says Claire: “We are eternally grateful to our donors and supporters who walked this path with us. The Hlumelelisa team remains in close contact. If anyone would like to use any of our training materials, or has employment opportunities for our brilliant team of facilitators, please contact Claire on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To watch the Inyathelo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RZOeXaK6ws&ab_channel=InyatheloSouthAfrica

To find out more about Hlumelelisa and access the materials: https://www.hlumelelisa.org/