Teamwork: Once a month, Rwandans come together for Umuganda, or community service. Picture: AFP/PHIL MOORE
Teamwork: Once a month, Rwandans come together for Umuganda, or community service. Picture: AFP/PHIL MOORE

In post-genocide Rwanda, president Paul Kagame instituted the practice of mandatory communal labour to enhance political and economic development. This followed the killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans in the 1990s.

Since 2007, Umuganda Day has taken place every last Saturday of the month, and it is seen as one of the reasons why Rwanda ishailed as an extremely clean country. 

According to Rwandapedia, which seeks to tell the story of Rwanda’s development and is funded by the African Development Bank, Rwandans between 18 and 65 must participate in Umuganda, which can roughly be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”. 

Johannesburg wants to emulate the Rwandan model of volunteers cleaning
their neighbourhoods

It is estimated that close to 80% of Rwandans take part in monthly community work, through which citizens have built schools, medical centres and even hydroelectric plants. 

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba visited this small African country three years ago with his wife Connie, when he was still
a businessman and not yet formally involved in politics. He was, he says, “so impressed by the cleanliness of the country”.

“People shared with us their monthly cleaning campaign on every last Saturday of the month, when everybody, including the
president, cleaned their neighbourhood,” Mashaba tells the Financial Mail, explaining the origin of the idea for  Johannesburg’s new monthly cleanup campaign, A Re Sebetseng (“Let’s work”). 

On the last Saturday in September, Mashaba got his hands dirty in the first voluntary cleanup of the campaign, which is based on the Rwandan model. 

A Re Sebetseng, officially launched in August, is described as a ward-based cleaning initiative that will enhance the city’s R50m investment in Pikitup for a third cleaning shift in the city, the mayor said at the launch. 

He added that, as part of the campaign, Pikitup will start a programme of engaging with schools and private stakeholders to
get learners involved in preserving the environment. 

Later in August, a delegation from the city — led by Nico de Jager, Joburg MMC for environment & infrastructure services, and
including representatives from Pikitup — attended a practice study of solid-waste management in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
Mashaba said Joburg would emulate some of the practices observed in Kigali. These include: revising waste management
by laws to, among others, make separation of waste at source mandatory; putting in place education and awareness campaigns
and stakeholder involvement programmes; and developing partnership guidelines to involve stakeholders as active participants in implementing a new approach to waste management. 

“Based on reports from the delegation, the success of Umuganda lies not only in a sense of immense pride that each citizen has for
his or her direct environment, community and city, but also in continuous and nondeviating bylaw enforcement,” Mashaba said
last month. 

Mashaba says he could see that there was no improvement in the cleanliness of the inner city, one of his big electioneering
promises, even after the third cleaning shift was instituted by Pikitup. This, he says, was because people were not taking responsibility for keeping the city clean. 

“I said to myself, if I’m not going to get community buy-in to understand the value of looking after our environment, we are not going to get the city clean. For me, a clean city is a healthy city. It is a city that can attract investment.” 

The aim for Joburg is 5% economic growth by 2021. 

Mashaba acknowledges that it will take time for residents to “change their consciousness” on how they see waste and a
clean environment. Unlike in Rwanda, where it is law, Joburg residents cannot be forced to clean their streets and their communities. 

“For me we need to promote the spirit of volunteerism in our people because when we succeed with A Re Sebetseng, we can
extend it to other sectors of our government ser vices,” Mashaba says, mentioning the possibilitie s of, for example, doctors volunteering a few hours in government clinics. 

The long-term dreaming continues, as he describes an aim for the next few years: “That Johannesburg will be the cleanest city
in the country.”

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