Bangala is one of the local names for Cleome gynandra, a vegetable found in Limpopo, and consumed especially among the Tsonga and Venda indigenous communities throughout the region. It is rarely found in the area these days due to extreme weather conditions, specifically drought. This vegetable is referred to as morogo by the Basotho people of Lesotho, and as imifino in the Zulu language– both of these terms are used generally to refer to a number of leafy vegetables.
In Southern Africa, the use of leafy vegetables is as old as the history of modern man. The Khoi and San peoples, who have lived in Southern Africa for at least the past 120,000 years, relied on the gathering of plants from the wild for their survival. The Bantu-speaking tribes, which started to settle in South Africa about 2,000 years ago, also collected leafy vegetables from the wild. In their food systems, hunting and the collection of edible plants were particularly important during times of emergency, when crops had failed or livestock herds had been decimated.
Bangala is a vegetable that grows spontaneously in cultivated areas, especially during the rainy season. Though the plant produces seeds when mature, these seeds are not harvested, but left to die with the plant. Bangala grows alongside maize and other cultivated vegetables, and farmers often leave it to grow when weeding their cultivated areas, though not all farmers recognize it and it is often mistaken for a weed. Increased use of chemical herbicides and drought put its survival at risk.
Bangala is cooked while it is still green, though it may also be sun dried and stored for up to two years, to be used during the dry season. When the leaves (preferably young) have been picked, they are boiled with salt and tomatoes (optional) and can be cooked from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of leaves. They are served with pap, either hot or cold. The fresh leaves are cooked within five days of picking.
Due to its scarcity as a food plant, bangala is not widely available on the market: the sale of leafy vegetables harvested from the wild is limited and mostly restricted to dried products. It is a useful vegetable and a dietary supplement to maize meal pap.