Heavenly makeover for Helenvale

Xolisa Phillip

RESIDENTS of the impoverished Port Elizabeth suburb of Helenvale are getting their hands dirty in a bid to make their neighbourhood "heavenly". Fed up with the negative publicity their part of the world generates, the residents rolled up their sleeves, joined hands with the Helenvale Empowerment Cooperative (Hemco) and sprang into action.

This six-month collaborative sprucing up effort has seen unsightly illegal tips turned into recreational parks and the removal of 2500 tons of rubbish – roughly 250 10-ton tipper trucks' worths of waste.

Although one area has shown slight regression, the cleanup exercise has withstood the festive season litter litmus test, according to Northern Areas People Development Initiative member and entrepreneur Neil Campher. Most of the sites had remained spotless since June last year, when the campaign began, he said.

The initiative also saw a first for Helenvale: the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality began a weekly waste collection service. Although this is a constant in other areas and many might take it for granted, it represents a major victory for Helenvale, he said.

The cleanup has also seen previously "dead" spaces coming alive. Hemco chairwoman Rebekka Windvogel outlined some of the campaign's milestones so far.

The cooperative converted a dumping spot on Reginald Road into a recreational park fitted with a small garden, basic basketball court, waste bins and benches. "It's not only being used to play ball sports, but people are braaiing here and hosting open-air prayer meetings."

Troublesome spots were stabilised and residents took ownership of the cleanliness of their neighbourhood. "Niemand gaan hier weer mors nie," [No one is going to make a mess here again] was the residents' emphatic response when asked about the turnaround.

These minor changes is a small victory for Campher, who has observed his community's cyclical service delivery protests – most of which have taken on violent undertones.

"This has been profound. The community is ridding itself of illegal dumping. The reconnection with the land and revival of communal spaces bear testament to the power neighbourhoods hold.

"Although much remains to be done, the government should learn from and celebrate these civic victories. We need to live out the values of Batho Pele [people first]."

Communities interested in "cleaning up their acts" could approach the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality's waste management department, which was responsible for the region's cleanliness, Campher advised. "Another avenue is the Environmental Affairs Department."