Guest Column

Moving beyond giving 67 minutes

2017-07-30 05:52
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

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Herman Mashaba

‘As long as many of our people still live in utter poverty, as long as children still live under plastic covers, as long as many of our people are still without jobs, no South African should rest and wallow in the joy of freedom.”

These are the words of former president Nelson Mandela, a man who believed in people’s power to positively effect change in a society for the benefit of all.

On his birthday on July 18, inspired by Madiba’s 67 years spent in public service due to his belief in racial equality and social justice, people across South Africa dedicated 67 minutes of their time to helping those less fortunate than themselves. Driving the activities was the hope that, one day, we would all be part of a more caring, integrated, safe and healthy society.

The Gini coefficient (a statistical measure of the income distribution of a country’s residents) for Johannesburg suggests that it is one of the most unequal cities on the globe. Certainly, it is made up of many communities forgotten through years of government inaction and poor service delivery.

It goes without saying that increasing access to formal housing through housing projects and the upgrade of informal settlements alongside improving service delivery will make inroads into reducing social inequalities and driving sustainable urbanisation in the city.

Our new administration is doing all it can to play its part in getting the basics of service delivery right and creating an enabling environment for creating job opportunities and economic growth. However, every resident has within them the power to shape their community for the better, even through the smallest of actions. The multitudes of people who volunteered their time in memory of Mandela and because of their belief in this power to effect positive change would suggest that I am not unique in this belief.

Taking ownership

That said, we must all admit that, no matter how noble, giving 67 minutes of our time in one isolated burst is not enough to turn our communities into caring, integrated, safe and healthy spaces. To do that, we need to make every day a Mandela Day by taking ownership of our communities and helping wherever we can. Allow me to explain.

With a population of more than 1 million people, Kigali is the capital and largest city of Rwanda. It has been the economic, cultural, and transport hub of the country since it became the capital at independence in 1962. Like Johannesburg, it is faced with the pressures that come with urbanisation. This includes the challenge of waste management.

Rising to that challenge, the residents embarked on a clean-up campaign called Umuganda – coming together to achieve a common purpose. Every last Saturday of the month, residents commit time to projects aimed at improving their public spaces. Through Umuganda, Kigali is now lauded as “Africa’s cleanest city”. The people of Kigali are not merely reclaiming their city from dirt and grim, they are doing so fast.

There is no reason Johannesburg cannot do the same. Inspired by the example of Kigali, I have sought to engage city officials, politicians from across government and our nation’s political spectrum, members of civil society, business, faith-based organisations, community leaders, and public figures in order to find ways of bringing the spirit of volunteerism and the practice of Umuganda to Johannesburg.

By making our city cleaner, we drastically improve the spaces we work, live and play in, and come that much closer to living in communities we can be proud off. We build a culture of involvement, caring and communality which spreads beyond a calendar day in a year.

In the next month, I will ask residents to take ownership of their communities and help make our Johannesburg a little better by taking part in our own city-wide monthly clean-up campaign. This will be the beginning of many such opportunities for the residents and the city to work together towards realising the full potential of our communities. I truly believe that the challenges faced by Johannesburg can be weathered by working hand in hand with the people of this great city.

Mashaba is mayor of Johannesburg

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Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  mandela day
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