From mucky ‘cesspit’ to a town we can be proud to call home, a Vryheid man’s resolve to clean up the streets

In the reception area at the municipal manager’s office is an award carved out of wood. The inscription on the plaque reads, ‘Vryheid, Cleanest Town in 2002’.

A relic from a time when the municipality and residents cared enough to put a little effort into ensuring a clean and pleasant environment for Vryheiders to live and work in.

To businessman, Keith Sparrow, the notion of a clean town is more than a lost ideal. It can be a reality again. He believes that, if the people of Vryehid care enough, the streets can be transformed from the mucky cesspit we’ve become accustomed to, to a place we can be proud to call home.

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Motivated by the this belief, Keith began clean-up campaign, #OperationCleanUp. He recruited a team of four to assist him, armed them with shovels, brooms and rubbish bags and set off to work, paying his team for their help out of his own pocket.

In the days that followed, #OperationCleanUp filled hundreds of rubbish bags and made considerable progress removing sand and rubbish from the sidewalks and gutters along Church, Mark, Utrecht, Landdrost, East and Mason Streets, among others.

“Driving through the CBD does not leave a good impression of our town,” said Keith, venting the frustration that got the project started. “The concrete dustbins are either overflowing or broken, and the people just continue throwing their rubbish next to the bins.

“The mounds of sand and muck that have collected on the roadside are not just an eyesore, they clog the storm-water drains whenever it rains.

“That’s when you find rivers of water flowing down the streets. People urinate in that sand, and oil and other muck ends up mixed in the sand as well, and it stinks.

“I am sick and tired of looking at all the filth. I just want a clean town. I have lived here since 1982 and Vryheid used to be one of the most beautiful clean and kept towns. If you dared to leave rubble on the sidewalk, you were given a warning and a fine. If things keep going the way they are, I shudder to think of what the town will look like in 20 years.”

Keith also expressed concern that every surface in the CBD has become a pin-board to advertise illegal abortions.

While #OpertionCleanUp has benefited from the kind contributions of fertiliser bags, to convey the sand to the landfill site, and some cash donations that helped cover the wages of the clean-up team, Keith fears that without the ongoing support of the community, the project will be short-lived.

“It costs me about R600 a day, just for wages, to keep the project going, and it has reached a stage where I can no longer afford to pay for it out of my own pocket. I am prepared to go on indefinitely, but I need the funds to support the work being done.”

Residents who wish to make a contribution towards #OperationCleanUp can contact Keith on 034 981 3826 or 083 272 8912.

Mayor, Jerry Sibiya, commended Keith on his hard work and explained that the municipality hadn’t had any EPWP (Extended Public Works Program) workers to clean up the streets since February.

“We used to have 30 EPWP workers,” said Cllr Sibiya.

“However, their contracts ended at a time when we did not have senior management in place. As a result, the paperwork to obtain funding from the MEC was not completed in time. So we currently do not have any EPWP workers, and it would have been mostly their responsibility to keep the town clean. However, I think that the bigger problem is around our permanent staff.

“They don’t want to work. Refuse collection is not being monitored properly and we are constantly fighting with the department that deals with roads and storm-water for better service delivery. Yet, these are departments that claim the most overtime.”

But Cllr Sibiya has a plan…

“I am going to use some of the money currently allocated for overtime to fund the wages of 100 general workers. Some of these workers will be allocated to each department and they will reduce the pressure on staff, focussing on cleaning up the town, roads, stormwater, water and sanitation and electrical complaints,” he concluded.

In the meantime, it may be up to Keith Sparrow, his team and the residents of Vryheid to step in, where the municipality is failing.

  AUTHOR
Estella Naicker

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