Herman Mashaba

Mr President, don't go reinventing Johannesburg's wheel

2019-02-18 10:44
(Naledi Shange, News24)

(Naledi Shange, News24)

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Dear Mr President

During your reply to the debate on the State of the Nation Address on 14 February 2019, you announced the launch of a country wide clean-up campaign on 8 March this year. 

I don't want to dwell on how similar this sounds to the City of Johannesburg's volunteer clean-up campaign called A Re Sebetseng, which is Sesotho for "Let us Work". I would rather celebrate the fact that you and I finally have something in common. 

You see, when we launched A Re Sebetseng, in Johannesburg in September 2017, we were inspired by Rwanda's Umuganda Day. As a part of their post genocide national-building project, it is compulsory for every Rwandan to come together once a month and volunteer their time to make their country better, side-by-side. 

READ: Herman Mashaba - South Africans can't be forced to pay for Eskom's corruption

This very week, City of Johannesburg officials are in Rwanda learning from the upcoming Umuganda Day this weekend. When you consider where Rwanda comes from and where they are now, there is a lot we can learn from them as a country. 

Rwanda is one of the cleanest countries in the world. Their economy is growing at an impressive 7%, with unemployment sitting at only 15%. Recent studies indicate social cohesion levels sit at 96% in Rwanda. All of this in a country that has overcome a dark and painful past and now shares a common sense of identity. 

For 18 months, the City of Johannesburg has operated its A Re Sebetseng program every month. It has involved partnerships that see communities, civic organisations, places of worship and various other groupings working alongside government. A Re Sebetseng has begun to restore a sense of pride in communities which has to be the foundation on which we build a better and cleaner City. 

You see, the work of government can only go so far when it comes to cleaning. We spend in the region of R2bn per annum in Johannesburg in refuse removal and cleaning services. In places, we face increased cleaning shifts to three times a day. However, as long as people do not feel proud of their community, and as long as they lack a sense of pride in a common national identity, no amount of government spending is going to do the job. 

One of the greatest failures of the democratic project in South Africa is the failure to create a sense of unity in our country. The rainbow nation project came to a screeching halt in the late '90s, failing to bridge the deep divides that were entrenched by the apartheid system. A Re Sebetseng could be the vehicle that seeks to bring back that feeling that we are in fact one people. 

Our residents have experienced moments, however brief, when we feel like one people. Those hair raising moments when we hosted the Soccer World Cup in 2010, the African Cup of Nations in 1996, the Rugby World Cup victories of 1995 and 2007. These were moments in which our pride as South Africans surpassed the historically entrenched differences between us. 

Please imagine the power of images of teachers of all walks of life giving of their time to help our young learners. Medical professionals rendering their services to the elderly and sick. Lawyers training our young prosecutors and communities working side-by-side with government to make their environment cleaner and better, places where residents could be proud to call home. 

ALSO READ: Mpumelelo Mkhabela - Why we need to recharge our batteries of patriotism

Mr President, please do not go and reinvent Johannesburg's wheel. We have the vehicle to deliver this. We have sought, desperately, to secure the interest of provincial and national government to no avail. Don't get me wrong, they feigned interest, promised to get involved and asked for the information to get involved, but nothing ever materialised. 

Even when your ministers, Derek Hanekom and Tito Mboweni, had a lot to say about the cleanliness of Johannesburg in December last year, they refused the invitation to join this initiative. You see, it's easy to criticise, especially when it is politically expedient to do so but it is another thing entirely to roll up your sleeves and do something about it. 

I am calling upon you to partner with the City of Johannesburg, to see what is being achieved with A Re Sebetseng and to see how this is the vehicle to drive volunteerism in our country. Show everyone that this is not about politics or elections, but something in which we can put aside our considerable differences to work together in the interests of communities and people. 

You and I do not have a lot in common politically, but we can leave it to voters to decide the differences between our parties on the May 8, 2019. 

In the meantime, as A Re Sebetseng suggests, let's work together to bring people of diverse backgrounds together in a bid to make our country a better place. Let's work together to bring down the walls between people in our country through a sense of identity and pride brought about through volunteerism. 

I look forward to your response to this challenge. 

Yours in service to South Africa

Herman Mashaba

- Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

Read more on:    herman mashaba  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  city of johannesburg


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