Executive mayor Parks Tau tried out a cross trainer.
Wearing track suits, takkies and muscle tops, people from Dhlamini in Soweto pitched up at Petrus Molefe Eco Park to try out equipment at the outdoor gym, the first to be built by Johannesburg City Parks.
The gym, set up in the heart of the park, is not just a recreational facility, but also a thing of beauty. Its equipment, painted dark blue and bright white, surrounded by emerald green lawn, catches the eye.
The reception from the community told a story: at the opening, a crowd made up of schoolchildren, young adults, grannies and grandpas arrived earlier. They eagerly waited for the moment, despite the hot sun of the February afternoon.
An unusual feature of the gym – and possibly unique in Joburg – is that it is a no-fee gym facility. Tau said the project was integral to discussions the city had had with its residents and other stakeholders when drawing up Joburg 2040, its long-term growth and development strategy (GDS).
"Through the GDS, we engaged in consultations with our people across the city on number of topics; health was one of them," he said. "By opening this gym we want to encourage our people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and become better and better and healthy citizens."
He warned that a report produced during the GDS outreach indicated that a substantial number of people suffered from non-communicable diseases that were often the result of lifestyle and unhealthy diet. These include heart diseases, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.
A local resident Celimpilo Mbona couldn't afford to join a gym "Some diseases are manageable through exercise. Let us use this gym to our advantage to ensure that we live healthy lives."
There are eight double-sided pieces of equipment in the gym, allowing 16 people to train at the same time. Equipment includes treadmills, rowing machines, exercise bikes, weights and cross trainers, all permanently mounted on the ground. There is also a mini-soccer field and a rectangular concrete aerobics court.
The equipment is made out of robust, weatherproof material, and it can withstand rain, sun and cold. People of all ages and fitness levels can use it. Tau used the rowing machine to demonstrate how it worked before residents were invited to try it out.
MMC for community development Chris Vondo stressed the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles. "A healthy body is equal to a healthy mind," he said, encouraging young people to be the first to use the gym. "We want to turn Johannesburg into a liveable city and a place that offers a quality of life."
Another aim was to build social cohesion. Vondo urged residents to protect the equipment from vandals and from being stolen.
"We want you to take ownership of this place, it is yours – protect and love it."
The message of ownership seemed to be well received across the board.
The local councillor, Lulalama Sibanyoni, said: "This facility will be vigilantly protected. We will do everything in our power to ensure that it remains for a long time for us, our children and grandchildren. Tau said: "We are extremely excited that the needs of our community are being prioritised. It is a sign that there is a high level of commitment from City Parks to provide world-class services to the people."
Members of the community were happy to engage with each other and were delighted to work off a few kilos. Among them was Zanele Sonto, a regular at the park. She tried out a couple of machines before joining the City Parks aerobics class.
"We love this park; we will come here every afternoon to train. A lot of us, especially women, are obese, so this is a great opportunity to get ourselves back into shape."
Another resident, Celimpilo Mbona, a soccer player, has long wanted to join a gym but could not afford to do so.
"I will train at least two times a day in the morning and in the evening because I live close to the park. It will help me to stay fit as a soccer player."
The Biokinetics Association of South Africa has offered to allocate bio kineticists to visit the outdoor gym once a month at no cost to the community or City Parks.
Biokinetics is the science of movement and the application of exercise in rehabilitative treatment or performance. The profession is concerned with health promotion, the maintenance of physical abilities and final phase rehabilitation by means of scientifically based physical activity programme prescription. On the day, a tree was planted and a ribbon cut to declare the gym open for community use.