Maverick Citizen


Labour of love – the art of cleaning up Joburg one street at a time

Labour of love – the art of cleaning up Joburg one street at a time
Actionists Zwelihle and Metsi Magwaza. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

Sometimes being an Actionist isn’t born out of a single brilliant idea. Sometimes, it comes from a hunger for change and the dedication to finding a space for yourself in a world that seems determined to work against you.

Zwelihle and Metsi Magwaza are candid about the bumpy road they have travelled in their mission to clean up Joburg, while at the same time finding a cost-effective and sustainable method of disposing of the waste that is collected. 

It all started when they were living in Marshalltown. They would walk to the Johannesburg Art Gallery and pass by Joubert Park, which was full of litter at the time. Instead of looking the other way, they decided to do something about it, so they invited their artist friends to help them clean up the park. 

Over time, they had to formalise their clean-up project to work with the City and other organisations. They called it Love Our City Klean (LOCK).

Since 2016, they have been trying out different ideas to see what works, fully embracing failure as a way of learning and moving forward, never losing sight of the big picture – to clean up the city they love.

Much of the struggle has centred on dealing with big corporations that do not benefit financially from the recycling of their products. Several initiatives that LOCK has trialled had to be abandoned as they were considered uneconomical, despite their advantages in terms of sustainability and the environmental footprint. 

But the ideas kept coming and the enthusiasm never waned.  

Zwelihle and Metsi have helped to create a community swap shop at Victoria Yards where residents of Bertrams and Bez Valley are encouraged to collect, sort and clean recyclable items, and drop them off in exchange for points that can be used to buy food, clothing and books. 

In 2021, Pikitup offered them a space in their Bez Valley garden site. Already established as a recycling drop-off centre, it provides an undercover space to sort and sell items with more value than standard bulk recycling items such as paper and plastic. 

From this venue, they want to create a space where artists can come to be inspired, and they are passionate about building a bespoke service for artists who require specific items for collage, sculpture and other disciplines. 

This is a labour of love for Zwelihle and Metsi, but they cannot do it without help and they understand the power of finding the right partners – responsible business owners who care about the environment and share a love for the city of Johannesburg. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Actionists

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected].


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Lombard says:

    Wonderful work. LOCK should name and shame uncooperative businesses, especially if they are subsidiaries of larger corporations. Fines should follow.

    • Kenneth Arundel says:

      Sorry Jane, but that will not help at all. We are all complicit, as we buy what the big guys sell, including all the extraneous packaging. We are the biggest part of the problem.

  • John Brodrick says:

    We need to pass a law that every container or item of packaging, including sweet wrappers, must be made of recyclable materials, and that a refundable deposit should be attached to each. A bar code on each item will allow for the packaging to be scanned and a credit voucher issued. Litter then will have financial value, and we will solve the litter problem at the same time. The system already works in the Netherlands. I am old enough to remember a time when discarded cold-drink bottles were picked up and returned, mostly by children to supplement their pocket money.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Wonderful work: bow can we support LOCK?

  • Citizen X says:

    Great work!

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