Igniting our spirit

2012-02-02 00:00

IT’S taken the dead to wake up the living. At least that was the case for the large group of concerned citizens who turned up at the Aryan Hall in Raisethorpe to demand an end to the ongoing crematorium crisis in the city.

Over the hill in Hilton a group of retired electricity experts have formed a task team to play their part in trying to resolve the saga of never-ending power outages in their area. Businesses in the city are also coming to the party with their “adopt and beautify a site” project being co-ordinated by the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

Back at city hall we seem finally to have a municipal manager with a firm hand. Mxolisi Nkosi told disruptive traffic and security staff that he was the commander-in-chief. “Behave,” he said. “Either you leave or I leave.”

Finally, after a long time I am beginning to feel more optimistic about living in the capital city. You had to be at that crematorium meeting to realise that Pietermaritzburg really does have an active citizenry. Many of those present were either active or the children of marchers who participated in one of the biggest rates protest marches that took place in the city in the eighties. As heartening was the number of young people present. The meeting was chaired by Rajiv Nirgin, the very youthful president of the Midlands Hindu Society who was elected chairperson of the Msunduzi Crematorium and Cemeteries Concerned Citizens Committee (MCCCCC).

Nirgin said senior municipal leaders, including the mayor, municipal manager, speaker and head of community health, had agreed to meet the committee and they were currently negotiating to find a suitable date. He was also feeling upbeat about being a Maritzburger. Nirgin said he was impressed that a strong sentiment that came out of the crisis meeting was the desire to make the city better for everyone.

However, a very big thank you has to be said to the small hardy band of citizens who for 10 years persisted, against an intransigent municipality, to try to get the crematorium issues resolved. They included local undertakers and religious leaders like Nash Jadoo and Pundit Kenny Pillay who has completed his monastic studies and is now known as Swami Nischalananda. I recall the first time the cremators broke down there were only two in the Mountain Rise Cemetery: one in the chapel and the other at the Hindu crematorium. We soon learnt that parts from the chapel cremator were used to fix the larger machine at the Hindu crematorium. For years this remained the only operating cremator. Then there was the saga of getting a brand new cremator that was housed in a room built at the side of the chapel. Of course, the undertakers knew better and tried their best to advise a bunch of arrogant officials who refused to listen. The end result was that an incinerator was installed instead of a cremator. There was high drama when this brand new cremator caught alight barely months after being installed and it limped on, with staff eventually abandoning it. Through all this, meetings were held at the cemetery and tours were arranged to other crematoriums but all these efforts fell on deaf ears. The lesson from all of this is never to give up. So it was good to see both the Swami and Jadoo at the crisis meeting and agreeing to be elected onto the concerned citizens committee.

Perhaps persistence will pay off as well for our lone champion on the public swimming pools front. Letter writer U. E. Rawat has not given up on drawing the authorities’ attention to the the shocking state of the city’s swimming pools and the lack of this recreational service in suburbs like Imbali and Edendale. All of this in a city where the average summer temperature remains in the upper 30s. Hopefully, the Concerned Citizens Committee, after resolving the crematorium and cemetery crisis, will tackle the issue of the city’s neglected municipal swimming pools. Then there is the exorbitant electricity disconnection and reconnection fees that affect the poor. The list goes on. Perhaps we need a few more concerned citizens’ committees to tackle different issues.

I’ve sat through many a community meeting where it was said that there is a wealth of skills available among our large population of retired citizens. It is good to see the formation of the electricity task team and here’s hoping that municipal officials accept rather than rebuff their offers of help. The late Gordon Haygarth, a former Durban town clerk, was a wonderful example of a senior citizen who used all his institutional memory to try to give guidance on the rates and public accounts front. So, too, was the later former councillor Leonard Nkosi, who despite being in his 90s was passionately involved with and concerned about land rights in Edendale. Let’s hope a younger generation keeps up the fight for appropriate development of Edendale that takes into account the rich history of the area.

• nalini@witness.co.za

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