Place, People and Purpose in Khayelitsha: An interview with Busi

Paula Hay

Place, People and Purpose in Khayelitsha

Stewardship Training

In November 2019, Busiswa Nomayi (Busi), from Khayelitsha, participated in The Umvoto Foundation’s Stewardship Training Course, delivered in partnership with the Edith Stephens Nature Reserve and Communitree. Inspired by the week-long workshops on water systems, environmental rehabilitation, and stewardship, and seeing the environmental challenges in her own community, Busi decided to act.

On the role that Umvoto and the Stewardship Training played in her decision to take action.

The course was on how the earth, water, and science interact and that gave me this vision of making a difference. I would never have known the importance of stormwater drainage and the connection to waste. It was inspiring.”

Rubbish on a side walk in Khayelitsha, South Africa
Before the community clean-up

About the Organization

Busi was concerned about the health impacts of rubbish in the streets of her community, particularly for the children and water systems.

“One Saturday in November I saw lots of bags near the primary school and saw toddlers opening up the bags that had medication in them and they were eating what they found. This is not safe and can spread TB. Street vendors dump their meat and vegetables and, in the winter when it rains heavily, it is washed into the water. People don’t understand that this impacts the wetlands and our water sources.” 

Busi did not waste time. In the same month as completing the Stewardship course, Busi and four other women from Griffiths Mxenge, a ward in the Khayelitsha Township of Cape Town, started a clean-up project. They call themselves Indawo, Abantu, Injongo e Khayelitsha which means Place, People and Purpose in Khayelitsha. The groups mission is to revitalize the space, stop the invasion of rubbish, and create a beautiful environment.

People:        We are the people of Khayelitsha.

Place:            This is our place and our responsibility to look after it.

Purpose:      Keep it clean, safe, and health. Create life on the street and make a difference and                                    change behaviour.

Three adults doing a clean up in Khayelitsha
Indawo, Abantu, Injongo e Khayelitsha: Community clean-up initiative

Cleaning Up

Starting early in the morning, Busi and her group cleaned the streets every Saturday. Beginning near the local primary school, the group would collect hundreds of bags in just a few hours. An initial challenge faced by Busi and her group was just getting the basic equipment they needed to do their work. With the support of the Umvoto Foundation, the team was able to secure wheelbarrows, spades, safety boots, gloves and masks, and rakes and brooms to sweep along the streets and pavement. 

Initially after they collected the garbage, Busi and her team loaded them into a skip provided by the City of Cape Town. After a few weeks Busi noticed that often the full skips would attract dogs, who would open the bags and undo all their hard work.

In order to get the garbage out of the streets in a timelier manner, an organization called Help Up stepped in to provide assistance. Help Up, a local non-profit who have been supporting ongoing river clean up, reached out the City to arrange for a truck to come immediately after Busi and her group were finished collecting the garbage each day. In addition to this, Help Up also provide materials, tools and a weekly stipend for Busi and her team while also securing a donation of benches for the community.

Solid waster on a side walk in Khayelitsha

Busi’s Perspective

Busi believes the City providing the truck is a sign that the government could be more supportive in the future, especially when they see what citizens are doing for themselves, “Government can also change. If they see that we are doing the difference, then its doable.”

After several weeks of Busi and her group cleaning the area, local residents began to notice their work, going so far as to let other residents and visitors know that dumping garbage in the area is illegal.

“Behaviour is changing” says Busi, “I think people can see that this is our place. The name is People Place Purpose in Khayelitsha. If they can see that it is do-able, that we can keep it clean and environment. That mother nature is giving it to us and it’s our responsibility. This Saturday we cleaned and this morning I just found one bag. Used to find piles.”

Busi believes that this work can lead to even greater change in the area,  “the more people clean up, the better health and better behaviour we will see… maybe less crime and people learning to take responsibility of their own place without waiting for government or someone else to do it for them. If we can pick up in our street, less can go into our rivers and we don’t want rubbish in our ocean. I believe that together we can make a difference in our community and to our country and to the world if to take care our nature and our environment at large.”

Three adults doing a clean up

Other Dreams for Khayelitsha

Busi and her group are not stopping at cleaning their streets, they have a more ambitious vision. Through the Stewardship course Busi formed a partnership with Edith Stephens and the Communitree organization, who will help them grow indigenous plants in the area and “green” the large areas of pavement by planting trees.

For their first project the group intends to plant trees and other indigenous plants along the fence of the local school. Busi believes that by creating a beautiful natural space residents will have more respect for their local environment. More than that, Busi believes that this sense of pride could lead to greater change, reduced crime and a stronger, more positive sense of community.

To create greater awareness about their work, Busi and her group are looking to partner with local artists, incorporating their art into the group’s cleaning and beautification projects. To date the group has cleaned two streets and hope to expand to other areas of the community. Key to this expansion will be more people from the community joining their efforts, something that Busi believes their initial work has started to encourage.

A clean side walk in
Indawo, Abantu, Injongo e Khayelitsha: After the clean-up initiative

Challenges in Khayelitsha

And there are other challenges beyond pesky dogs.

For a group that is relatively new and still small, and whose focus requires physical labour, progress depends on ongoing volunteer support. Different things come up in people’s lives, priorities shift. Even Busi struggles to maintain her involvement at times.  

“Slowly we are going to grow, and we like what we are doing. But it is challenging doing it all as volunteers. We need as many people as we can who have the same vision.”

Between November 2019 and March 2020 the group cleaned every weekend. However, since March 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns set the group back. Compounding this is that Covid more and more people were building shacks and extending informal settlements. With no regular garbage collection these newly settled areas are experiencing an accumulation of typical garbage as well as construction waste and debris. 

Man participating in a cleanup

Thinking for the Future of Khayelitsha

Undaunted, Busi sees this new challenge only as another opportunity to create positive change. They’re working on different ways to recycle construction rubble into benches, permanent waste bins and other infrastructure that can benefit the community and further support their efforts.

Busi believes that with more beautification projects, Khayelitsha could become a place that people will want to visit. As environmental conditions improve, and more people visit Khayelitsha, residents will feel more pride in their community. When people care about their community, they look out for it and for each other. It is Busi’s hope that with more “eyes on the street” the area will become safer for everyone.

Busi and her group are also planning on reaching out to local schools with a focus on getting young people more involved.

“We are targeting people to have something to do on their spare time, instead of getting into mischief.”

With the school outreach Busi wants to encourage gardening along the street and the development of a composting program. Local vegetable sellers have offered to help them with recycling by providing what they don’t sell to be used as compost. She is also hoping that young people and will join in the weekends to learn about recycling and helping to pick up recyclable bottles and plastics.

The team is now looking for different ways to generate revenue for their ongoing equipment needs, such as gloves, masks, plastic bags, everything they need to collect garbage. The group also wants to be able to provide incentives for community members to participate. As a start the team has been collecting clothes and other used good with the hopes of setting up a small thrift store next to the vegetable seller.

Busi’s dream is that the street will come to life when more people have an interest.

“People will see the environment clean. With the young ones, they like to take pictures. Imagine along the school with those beautiful plants. They will know this is not a dumping site.”

Busi believes that a key part of their future success will depend on young people within the community and their getting involved in the project. She believes that it could give them a sense of purpose and inspire the larger group with their youthful energy.

 “The Young ones have energy and if they are learning they can do it along the street and apply it in their homes. They can tell how to recycle and keep clean. If we teach the young ones they can teach the bigger ones.”

The group is back in action now following the most recent Covid-19 lock down. She said even though the first Saturday back was challenging in terms of the amount of waste, the community were happy to see them back.

Bags of rubbish collected in Khayelitsha