‘Creating hope’ – Man turns rubbish dump into informal settlement sports field
Luke Botha has put his money where his mouth is, and turned an eyesore into a community oasis.
This used to be a pile of junk until entrepreneur Luke Botha took charge and beautified the neighbourhood. Picture Hein Kaiser
Luke Botha is the kind of guy who sees a glass as half-full, not half-empty, and he believes that even though Covid battered SA, people can still drag themselves up and out. He has put his money where his mouth is and begun transforming rundown municipal infrastructure into a calm oasis. And he has built a football field on a vacant piece of municipal land formerly used as a dump so nearby informal settlement residents have a place to relax and enjoy themselves. “It creates hope,” said Botha. “I feel like the country has become hopeless. Also, with Covid over…
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Luke Botha is the kind of guy who sees a glass as half-full, not half-empty, and he believes that even though Covid battered SA, people can still drag themselves up and out.
He has put his money where his mouth is and begun transforming rundown municipal infrastructure into a calm oasis. And he has built a football field on a vacant piece of municipal land formerly used as a dump so nearby informal settlement residents have a place to relax and enjoy themselves.
“It creates hope,” said Botha. “I feel like the country has become hopeless. Also, with Covid over the past two years I have seen people just kind of let things be. Now it’s time to take it back.”
In many areas in South Africa, municipal infrastructure is poorly maintained, if at all, and this is exactly what entrepreneur Botha saw when he bought the Airborne Park business complex in Ekurhuleni.
But he did something about it and spent a small fortune beautifying a kilometre in each direction of his investment. Now, others are following suit. Botha purchased the business park just before lockdown and funded the redevelopment of public areas out of his own pocket.
He said: “I wanted tenants and their clients or visitors to feel better about the area when they go to work or attend a meeting.”
He added that on acquiring the property, he was dismayed at the state of the area. A festering, rotten canal was on the one end and at the other, adjacent to the N12, a makeshift dump besides an informal settlement. In between, there was a road without markings, disintegrated sidewalks and faded or no road signs. Now, driving down Taljaard Road is a completely different experience.
Botha paved the sidewalk, had white lines painted on the street, added speed bumps and paid for new road signs, installed solar-powered street lights and even directional signage pointing to his neighbours. Beyond the paving is a sidewalk lawn perfectly manicured and plush.
He said: “Someone had to do it and until I got here, nobody had, so I just did it.”
The dump, which was once an eyesore and a health risk, was transformed into a new soccer pitch which sees the community at play seven days a week. Botha’s initiative is a good start to implementing the “broken windows strategy” adopted by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner, William Bratton, to clean up the then crime-infested Big Apple.
It’s a criminological idea that essentially reasons that an environment or, in South Africa’s case a decaying environment, encourages civil disorder and crime.
Fixing it up, like Giuliani and Bratton did, can, according to the theory, reduce negative behaviours. In a 1976 article, criminologists George L Kelling and James Q Wilson commented on the broken window theory and suggested that dealing with small problems in neighbourhoods empowers communities and people claim their public spaces.
They said decaying urban areas send a message that an area is uncared for and encourages petty crime and prostitution, for example. Restoration and beautification can turn the tide and ultimately prevent more serious crimes. Certainly Botha’s efforts are infectious.
The filthy canal was cleaned up by neighbours Babcock and across and down the road, suddenly everyone is mowing the lawns and maintaining their own piece of industrial paradise.
Local ward councillor Simon Lapping said the first time he drove into the area, he thought he was in a different country. Although Botha did not ask for permission from the authorities to implement his vision, Lapping believes that no bylaws were trans gressed.
“There was no value destruction, only enhancement on an incredible scale. And this is what we need in South Africa right now, communities taking charge of their areas and working together and, with municipalities, to reverse the dilapidation.”
Botha’s investment in the area surrounding Airborne Park adds up to several hundred thousand rands. And he plans to keep going.
“The previous owner of the property didn’t seem to care much about maintenance and coupled with the council’s inability to maintain the area, it was a very depressing environment. Going backward will not happen on my watch.”