News / Opinion / Columns

Martin Williams
3 minute read
2 May 2018
9:30 am

Community work can make Joburg as clean as Kigali

Martin Williams

If you join, you’ll not only help uplift your neighbourhood, you’ll learn more about your community and yourself. You’ll become a better person.

Can Johannesburg be as clean as Rwanda’s capital, Kigali? Yes.

Can such cleanliness be achieved without Rwanda-style discipline? That’s a challenge.

I support the A Re Sebetseng campaign initiated by Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba, where people are encouraged to do community work. This consists mainly of once-a-month clean ups, based on Rwanda’s umuganda.

Umuganda is compulsory. All Rwandese over 18 and younger than 65 must participate. The International Labour Organisation, which tries to hold Rwanda accountable to the Forced Labour Convention, says “persons who fail to participate without justified reasons are punishable by a fine not exceeding 5 000 Rwandan francs (R72)”.

Such compulsion is not feasible in our constitutional democracy.

While visiting Kigali over the weekend, Mashaba tweeted pictures showing umuganda successes. Umuganda means “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”. Umuganda predates the colonial era. Arguably, it was manipulated by German occupiers, then by Belgians and then by Tutsis to achieve political ends.

Indeed, Penine Uwimbabazi says in a 2012 PhD dissertation, An Analysis of Umuganda: the Policy and Practice of Community Work in Rwanda, that it “may also be the means by which existing power relations are entrenched and reproduced”. Common purpose can be used to unite people behind, or against, leadership.

Citizens of Joburg come from diverse backgrounds of community involvement. They could pull together in common purpose.

But right now Kigali and Joburg are worlds apart. One city fines citizens who don’t volunteer, the other has difficulty enforcing bylaws.

Attitude is also a problem. On Monday, my Pikitup bin was placed in the street, neatly alongside a bag used for recyclable materials. When collecting the emptied bin later, I felt obliged to pick up litter strewn across the road.

Who made that mess? Was it the trolley-pushing waste pickers, Pikitup workers, or recycling company employees? Who knows? In combination, they left the street in a worse state.

Why? Does no one care, or don’t they know any better? Those who praise the work done by trolley pushers should spend time visiting where these folk live and sleep among rats. Some public open spaces are undergoing severe environmental degradation.

Trolley pushers and those employed by Pikitup and recycling companies need to care more about what they are doing. So, too, do litter-bug motorists who toss out cigarette butts and other junk as they drive along.

Neighbourhood cleanliness should not be left to those who earn their living from waste. A Re Sebetseng also offers a chance to reclaim a sense of community.

Too many people, especially in the northern suburbs of Joburg, think wealth buys them immunity from community involvement.

“I pay high rates and taxes”, is a common refrain. “Why should I do this or that.”

Well, no one is going to force you, or fine you. It’s your decision. But if you do join, you’ll not only help uplift your neighbourhood. You’ll learn more about your community. And about yourself. You’ll become a better person.

As Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”.

See you on May 19.

For more news your way, follow The Citizen on Facebook and Twitter.