We challenge you

2014-07-09 00:00

THERE’S that popular saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

It seems to me that’s what people in the capital are doing when it comes to the city’s litter problem. Slowly but surely, the elephant is being consumed!

Since my column a couple of weeks ago, when I committed The Witness to a Cleaning Up The Capital campaign after hearing a potential Polish investor disdain the state of the city, we have been able to feature some inspiring local heroes under this banner.

Take Nakkie Mornet, a 73-year-old from Taunton Road, Wembley, who called me up to tell me about how she walks her neighbourhood daily, cleaning up other people’s trash.

Take Ellerines, Quickserve, Nu Shop, Waltloo and Ballim’s Pharmacy, who have adopted their block in the CBD and who are fighting a courageous battle to make sure the area around their stores is spick and span.

Then there’s businessman Shameer Malani and his friends, who have transformed a derelict park in Pietermaritz Street into a shining oasis of civic pride.

“The way I see it, people are confused and see the city as not theirs, but belonging to the municipality. It is our city, it belongs to all of us. If you love your city and your country, then pick up the piece of paper lying on the ground, or better still, don’t drop it there in the first place,” he told our reporter.

That’s the kind of sentiment which will change the face of the city and I’m glad to see that there are many others who are responding to our Cleaning Up the Capital campaign, not least the Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister Barbara Thompson, who is also a Pietermaritzburg local.

In a letter to me this week, she committed her support to our campaign and apologised to citizens for the state of the city. She plans to engage with the city’s leaders on their plans and to ensure that this city is sparkling bright again.

Witness Warrior Nalini Naidoo, deputy editor Zoubair Ayoob and I have also met with Mayor Chris Ndlela and his team to tell them about our campaign and to get their support. I’m pleased to say they were supportive too, and also have significant plans of their own to get the city looking good again. We plan to enthusiastically support their clean-up plans in the pages of this paper.

There is enthusiasm too from Melanie Veness, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, who is also backing the Cleaning Up The Capital campaign and urging the chamber’s members to join the fray.

But the mayor knows, as he told me and reflected in his State of the City speech, that keeping Pietermaritzburg clean is not something that the city can do on its own. This is something we all have to do together.

The Witness in Pietermaritzburg is an integral part of this community, so we plan to do more than only write about what other people are doing.

On July 18, on Mandela Day, The Witness team will take up President Jacob Zuma’s challenge to commit the day to cleaning up South Africa.

We will spend our 67 minutes cleaning up Willowton, our neighbourhood in Pietermaritzburg, as a start. But we will go further too. We’ll commit 67 minutes every month to do the same, as a sign of our commitment to this campaign.

So here’s my challenge to you today: why not join in next Friday with 67 minutes dedicated to cleaning up your immediate neighbourhood, and commit to another 67 minutes each month to keep it going? If you want to take up the challenge, please let us know and we undertake to publish details of each and every initiative undertaken in this campaign, whether it is by an individual, a group of neighbours, other businesses, a civic group or a school. As we publish what others plan to do — and I believe there are significant plans, as well as from provincial government departments, which we hope to share with you soon — there will be opportunities to join in the initiatives of others or have others join yours.

I think it’s fitting that we start this on Mandela Day and commemorate his legacy not with icons, monuments and speeches, but in a small act of service and volunteerism that celebrates his memory. I hope that this small step next Friday will take us on a journey after which we will eventually look back with pride at the difference that we all made to a place that we care deeply about. Please join us.

• E-mail: andrew.trench@witness.co.za

• Twitter: @andrewtrench

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