Columns 5.9.2018 08:30 am

Let’s all be active citizens and build this country

Volunteers in Ward 90 clean up Hugh Wyndam Park, Dunkeld, Johannesburg. Photo: Naidine Sibanda

Volunteers in Ward 90 clean up Hugh Wyndam Park, Dunkeld, Johannesburg. Photo: Naidine Sibanda

Each community, including those which may appear dysfunctional, has that ability to make things better.

Let’s join dots which seem unrelated. What could possibly link Spring Day in Johannesburg to a best-selling book about American towns?

The common thread is this: people making their world a better place, not leaving that task to government.

On Saturday, as ward councillor, I was a minor player in an eruption of community energy when Friends of Hugh Wyndham Park in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, chose September 1 to show off improvements they have effected at a venue that has received their regular attention during A Re Sebetseng clean-ups.

These upgrades include a refurbished, well-equipped, fenced off children’s play area and a netball field where domestic workers train.

Special guest, Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, who toured the displays and planted two trees to commemorate the occasion, was impressed by the level of community involvement.

He hopes it can be replicated across the city. His Twitter comments (@HermanMashaba) are worth reading to get a sense of his enthusiasm for active citizenship.

This phenomenon of citizens increasingly doing it for themselves is taking hold in the US, judging by recent televised interviews with James and Deborah Fallows, authors of the book, Our Towns: A 100 000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America.

The journalist couple spent five years traversing the US in a small plane. After interviewing “hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs”, they describe a country different from that depicted by Trump-obsessed media.

If you Google the authors you will find “the America they saw is acutely conscious of its problems”, just as we cannot ignore what ails our country. But America “is also crafting solutions, with a practical-minded determination at dramatic odds with the bitter paralysis of national politics”.

“At times of dysfunction on a national level, reform possibilities have often arisen from the local level. The Fallowses describe America in the middle of one of these creative waves. Their view of the country is as complex and contradictory as America itself, but it also reflects the energy, the generosity and compassion, the dreams, and the determination of many who are in the midst of making things better. Our Towns is the story of their journey – and an account of a country busy remaking itself.”

South Africa should be “a country busy remaking itself”. Too often we do the opposite, we destroy. How much better it is to ride a creative wave. Each community, including those which may appear dysfunctional, has that ability to make things better.

Not long ago, most of the messages about Hugh Wyndham Park were despairing complaints. Things began to change when determined leaders persisted with the option of “adopting” the park through a written agreement with the city and the Craigpark Residents’ Association. Given the right attitude, such arrangements bear fruit.

The city, including politicians, officials, entities and whatnot, cannot fix Johannesburg without the active involvement of citizens.

Similarly, residents cannot do the job without having the city on board. We have to work together to remake Johannesburg and build this great country.

Let’s do it.

Martin Williams, DA councillor.

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