Opinionista Herman Mashaba 20 September 2017

A Re Sebetseng: Building a cleaner and better Joburg together

If we are to turn Johannesburg as a whole into a city that works, we must start with ourselves. We must take ownership of our city. We will achieve this when we start in our streets, and keep our communities clean by working together.

One of the first things I notice wherever I travel is the cleanliness of a place; it’s one of the first things any traveller notices really.

When I visited Kigali in 2015, I was struck by how this city proudly defied clichéd stereotypes regarding the grime of African cities and boasted a level of cleanliness I had last witnessed in Singapore 30 years earlier.

I’ve engaged in countless conversations about clean cities for years, always intrigued at peoples’ perceptions as to who should take responsibility for waste management; why some communities live seemingly unaware of the dangers of poor waste management; why others clean up fastidiously; and why others believe it’s the local administration’s problem.

As almost all residents would agree, local government administrations have a duty to provide quality services, and as Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, I am acutely aware of how essential efficient waste-management systems are in all of the city’s communities.

I have visited many communities where little children play in litter-clogged streams of infected sewage run-off. These communities were part of the city but they were completely off the radar as far as waste-management was concerned.

Immediately after visiting these forgotten communities, we immediately arranged for the most basic of services – waste bins. Within the inner city, we have additionally increased Pikitup’s service by introducing a third cleaning shift in order to improve cleanliness.

In 21st century Johannesburg, no child should suffer the indignity of living and play in sewage run-off.

I am astounded that our government is less committed to waste management engagement. This is because South Africa is not a signatory to the African Clean Cities initiative that took place in our neighbouring Maputo in April this year. This was a follow-up to the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI).

The objective of the African Clean Cities initiative is for each country to share their knowledge and experiences in waste management, to promote the mobilisation of public and private funds, and to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, and ultimately to achieve “Clean and Healthy Cities in Africa” by 2030, by training people, initiating waste-management studies, sharing information, and engaging in physical clean-ups.

As Mayor of Johannesburg, I cannot ignore the fact that people arrive daily to live and work in our City, and that this places significant pressure on waste-management systems – pressure which is ever increasing and thus requires constant attention.

It has become imperative to simultaneously enforce by-law adherence, to introduce community initiatives aimed at keeping our city clean, and to encourage residents to take personal ownership of efforts to create healthy living environments.

Many clean cities across the world rely on armies of cleaners, and while I do support the sector of waste management as an employer, I am a strong supporter of the model that promotes the city’s residents as the agents of change. That is why I officially launched the city’s A Re Sebetseng monthly clean-up campaign in Yeoville last month.

Last week, a group of 18 delegates from the City of Johannesburg, led by MMC for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Cllr Nico de Jager, attended a best practice study of solid waste management in the city of Kigali in Rwanda.

The hands-on, instructive engagement gave our waste management officials an opportunity to see world-class waste management procedures in practice.

The purpose of this interaction was to introduce some of the initiatives from Rwanda’s Umugaanda-model in Johannesburg, through our own monthly cleaning initiative, A Re Sebetseng, which means “let’s work”.

The City of Johannesburg and Pikitup have sought to emulate some of the interventions from the Rwandan experience, which include revising waste management by-laws, promoting education and awareness waste management campaigns, developing partnership guidelines to involve mission-critical stakeholders as active participants in implementing innovative approaches to waste management, and most importantly, introducing the monthly clean-up campaign targeting all regions of the city on the last Saturday of every month.

While the best practice paradigm is an integral part of the continuous improvement in our city’s waste management, what does best practice mean to you, the people of Johannesburg?

The success of the clean-up campaign lies in a sense of immense pride that each citizen has for his or her direct environment, community, and city.

I’m asking all Johannesburg residents to join our fellow Africans in the clean cities of Windhoek, Libreville, Tunis, Port Louis, Cape Town, and Kigali, in the movement to become a clean African city.

If we are to turn Johannesburg as a whole into a city that works, we must start with ourselves. We must take ownership of our city.

We will achieve this when we start in our streets, and keep our communities clean by working together. We can start by doing this during our cleaning campaigns on the last Saturday of every month. However, we will continue to look at other potential avenues to harness the potential for creating change that is driven by residents themselves.

As in Rwanda, a clean Johannesburg will draw people to our city, not only to learn from us but also to invest. Jobs do not grow in places where investors fear to tread.

In communities where litter, graffiti, broken appliances, and illegal dump sites are cleaned up, criminal activity is reduced. Cleaner neighbourhoods strengthen communities and improve the quality of life for its people.

When we keep our communities clean, we increase the value of our assets. The presence of litter and suburban decay decreases property values by 7%, whereas cleaner communities improve property values and increase economic development in the area.

The cost of litter is expensive in ways that may not be immediately measurable. A 2010 study shows that 36% of businesses choose to locate their businesses in communities that are clean.

The time has come for all us within the city to take ownership of our environment.

Already, the Johannesburg suburb of Kensington has embarked on a clean-up project which brings together contributions from the community in order to clean its high-volume traffic streets and the community’s Rhodes Park. The community initiative in Brixton has also proven that cleaner neighbourhoods make residents feel safer, friendlier, and healthier.

Ultimately, smart waste management and residents’ assistance in keeping the city clean will help recover resources, realise environmental, economic, and social benefits, and lead us to a sustainable future.

A Re Sebetseng, let us all work to make Joburg better, together. DM

Herman Mashaba is the Executive Mayor of Johannesburg

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