Greening Alexandra has its rewards

Keeping the environment clean and green is everyone’s responsibility, but for the residents of Alexandra extension 7, north of Johannesburg, it comes with a reward: a government initiative is not only bringing trees and flowers to the dusty streets, but also offering monthly prizes for residents who try out their gardening skills.

The Greening Challenge competition was launched in Alexandra in May this year and is the brainchild of Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

The minister had attended the handover of a government-subsidised house in Alexandra to Refilwe Makau, an 18-year-old disabled girl from the township, when she noticed how the garden in that yard added to the appeal of the home.

“The girl’s garden inspired the minister to challenge people from Alexandra to do their gardens and ‘green their homes’,” Department of Housing spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya told the Mail & Guardian Online this week.

Mabaya said that extension 7 of Alexandra—which faces the future Marlboro station of the Gautrain—will have about 1 200 new government-subsidised houses on its completion, and that so far about 500 houses have been occupied.

One of the sponsors of the Greening Challenge, Absa, donated 600 trees for each of the completed houses as part of a three-day tree-planting event that ran from Monday to Wednesday this week.

“The tree-planting event is not the only Greening Challenge competition event. The competition actually started in May this year when citizens were urged to have grass and flowers in their yards and consistently maintain them,” said Mabaya.

Rewards for residents taking part in the challenge range from home-improvement products such as paint to things like fertiliser for their gardens. The prizes vary each month.

“The competition will end in December. We wanted to make it this long so that there is enough time for their gardens to grow and so that they don’t only do their gardens for the competition but develop a good habit,” Mabaya said.

The other partners in the tree-planting event are the National Housing Finance Corporation, Johannesburg City Parks, the City of Johannesburg and the Alexandra Development Forum (ADF).

The ADF is a community organisation with different clusters that are involved in events in Alexandra. “The Greening Challenge is in the special projects cluster and our role as ADF is to facilitate community participation,” said Vusi Tshabalala, a field worker for the ADF.

Tshabalala told the M&G Online that 40 unemployed volunteers were trained to help residents plant the trees and, in the process, educate them on taking care of their gardens.

The Greening Challenge has a panel of about 20 judges who were selected from the companies sponsoring the competition, but the M&G Online was not able to obtain comment from any of the judges.

Thembelihle Tshabalala

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