JeVanne Gibbs
3 minute read
14 Sep 2013
9:00 am

A clean sweep

JeVanne Gibbs

Aimee Nel is not an acti-vist or a vigilante; you can just call her The Cleaning Lady.

Aimee Nel poses for a photograph for the Citizen at her home in Melville, Johannesburg, 10 September 2013. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

This is because the Melville local is on a mission to clean up the northern Johannesburg suburb. Nel was arrested last month and charged with damage to property after she repainted a wall that surrounds Adult World on Main Road without the owner’s consent.

“I was cleaning graffiti from walls and surfaces along the street when I noticed the grime on that particular wall, and decided to clean it off and paint it white,” says Nel. “Who would’ve thought that such a small action would land me in a holding cell and paying R2 000 bail to be released?”

She tells the Saturday Citizen her main gripe is illegal graffiti and illegally-placed advertising posters including those penis enlargement ads pasted around the city. “I rip them off and clean the wall or surface they are stuck to. I can’t stand them,” she declares.

Originally from Fourways in northern Johannesburg, Nel was drawn to Melville as a result of it’s “beautiful character and culture”. She has now been living in the suburb for about three years. On her arrival in the Bohemian hangout frequented by students from nearby universities, Nel found the state of the environment filthy and unbearable.

A keen practitioner of Feng Shui, the Chinese philosophical system of harmonising human existence with the surrounding environment, Nel believes that prosperity should be created by the way one lives. “Our outer manifestation resembles the way we live,” she says.

“For example, one can see what goes on in my life and who I am by looking at my home. Melville is like that, just on a bigger scale.” Drug addicts and dealers who openly do their business, along with vagrants, or displaced people, line the streets of Melville daily.

“I’ve had my life threatened on numerous occasions including being chased and having rocks thrown at me, just for cleaning the streets and cutting overgrown trees. How insane is that?” asked Nel. “There’s no way that businesses can flourish when the general area is so grimy. It’s this grime that attracts negativity to the area.”

In a bid to attract positivity to the area, Nel assembled a team comprising of herself and three others to work five days a week, cleaning the streets. She will soon distribute pamphlets to residents explaining her cause, and hopes that the project will bring value to the suburb.

Nel, who shares her birthday (March 30) with Vincent van Gogh, believes she is as passionate and single-minded as the post-impressionist painter. “When I pursue something, I do it fully – even putting my health aside. I’ve already lost 10kg the last two months. I’m melting away.

“I do get despondent at times, and feel tired and like I can’t go on; but then take some rest and realise that my goals are attainable. My goal of seeing the suburb transform into something like Stellenbosch drives me.

“All I want to see is the community standing together to get the suburb in order. People should stop complaining and just do it themselves, even if they only clean the spot outside their own homes. A ‘do-it-yourself’ society is the future.”