The flowers are in bloom, surrounded by neatly painted rocks and bordered by carefully stacked tyres to create a pretty garden opposite the Gelvandale magistrate’s court in Port Elizabeth. It’s beautiful.
This little corner of Helenvale wasn’t always this pretty; in fact, not too long ago it was an eyesore, an illegal dumping ground enveloped by a foul stench – until Claude Rademeyer (40) decided it was time to make a difference.
“Sometimes people would dump dead dogs here and it would smell very bad. I decided, for the health of the children around here and the people of the community, to create a garden.”
Claude is an ex-convict who spent two years in jail for an assault conviction; as well as an ex-drinker, who decided in 2016 that it was time to change his life for the better.
He wanted to be a better example for his daughter, Claurene Cloete (13), and he wanted to get into healthy habits that would be an example for the children of his area too.
“When I decided to change my life, I knew I also wanted to do something positive in the community. The most important thing is to show children positive things, so they can be inspired as it will keep them from the streets,”
Helenvale has been his home since childhood, and he shares it with his mother, Doreen (61); girlfriend Sherene (42); and Claurene. They live a stone’s throw from the illegal dumping site, and like many others in their community, they often complained about the horrific odour and state of that bit of land, but no one did anything about it – until Claude stepped up.
READ MORE: All aboard! Local man builds train to help kids get to school
His family are proud of him, he tells us, explaining that he has always enjoyed art and painting and sketching, and working with his hands.
“I have a God-given talent and I am putting it to good use.”
His artistic skills are on show in the little garden which has become the pride of the community. Claude recycled tyres, cooldrink bottles and old couches to create a welcoming space.
Some of the painted rocks have inspirational messages on them, and one has a painting of Claude’s hero, Nelson Mandela.
“Mandela changed a lot of people's lives and a lot of people looked up to him. He was humble and helped a lot of children. He’s my role model and I could also be a good role model for the children in the community, to show them that you don't have to be rich to make a difference.”
Every morning before he goes to work, Claude fills buckets to water the garden and devotes his weekends to the project too.
“When people can see the garden I created, they see what is in my heart – there's peace, joy and love.”
It might look better than before but there’s still more to be done, he says, but it will take time.
“I want to transform the whole place going beyond this corner. It’s been now two years that I have been working on this project, and I want to encourage other people to join me. It's not easy, but it was my dream, so I had to do it. If we bring more hands together then we would be doing something good and keep the children off the streets.”
Take a look at the garden’s transformation: