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The Green Umbrella

Swellendam has many enthusiastic environmentally aware residents – sadly out-numbered by those who couldn’t give a fig. But those numbers, owing to the dedication, experience and focus of one man, are about to switch.

On one of the busiest days in Swellendam – Markets, Bazaars, Concerts, a DJ event at the showgrounds – it was a testament to their passion and enthusiasm that a diverse group of people turned up at the (sadly dilapidated) Swellendam station and spent hours cleaning up. From children and teenagers to senior citizens, all colours and economic backgrounds, public figures – motivated by a common desire – to clean up! (Ok, there were prizes as well which were so motivating for some of the younger participants they were gloved up, bagged up and picking before the introduction and instructions had begun!)

It was a long time coming but when the Municipality finally made an appointment for a waste manager for the area, it turned out to have been worth the wait. Johan has hit the ground running, and managed to work what could be termed a miracle in this little town, which has something of a reputation for groups not being able to collaborate efficiently.

He has pulled together almost all of the various local environmental organisations and created a ‘Green Umbrella’ sheltering and supporting each one of them and getting all pointed in the same direction, with the same focus – coordinating action with awareness, events with education.

He has an excellent team (Melanie and Dwayne) at the Municipality behind him behind him and has inspired local businesses, organisations to support, drive and sponsor the initiatives he is rapidly – and effectively – putting into place. Individuals, (such as the wonderful Rita Brown from Rotary Park who is passionate about recycling and has started an initiative at her retirement home complex) are able to find a place in this umbrella organisation. Rita works with the Swellendam Conservancy which has played a huge role in getting these initiatives and projects off the ground. John Paisley has been equally behind and responsible for, the ‘Green Swellendam’ movement. Bruce Geils and Andrew McLachlan have also done amazing work with the community gardens.

Green Swellendam is the new umbrella for all green and sustainable initiatives.

To some, spending a morning cleaning up the mess left by careless, negligent or ignorant individuals may seem like nothing more than a symbolic gesture – whistling in the wind – a futile exercise – ‘in a few days time it will all be the same’ I heard a passer by mutter.

But this is not where it ends! This is the beginning of a huge coordinated plan to change the perception of waste. It is obvious when people understand the value of what they are casting aside. Think metal…. it is not littered any more – because everyone knows its recycling value.

The plans for the Greening of Swellendam are well underway and they are exciting, innovative and workable.

For example in 2022, there will be a BUY-BACK centre. in Swellendam. A buyback centre is a place where locals can take recycling and exchange it for credits. These credits can be used at local shops to buy basics. This monetizes recycling and makes it possible for anybody to be involved. Why dump your trash when you can turn it into cash!? This should lead eventually to the end of illegal dumping and casual littering.

Johan says “We have already got buy in from local NGOs and large companies within Swellendam but it will need all the big players to be involved as it will need monthly funding”

There are many other very exciting plans – it is wonderful to see that after a long and frustrating wait that finally there is a will – from the top to the bottom – to effect change. Not just to clear up the mess – but to prevent the mess happening in the first place.

photos Graham Mutyambizi

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