Khayelitsha is looking all the better for an environmental project that has reduced litter, promoted greening and boosted community awareness of environmental issues. Importantly, the programme has also brought other dividends: new businesses and employment opportunities for the inhabitants.
The suite of three environmental projects falls under the banner of Eco-Action, an initiative managed by the Department of Environ-mental and Geographical Science's Environmental Evaluation Unit (EEU) under the co-directorship of Dr Merle Sowman. The project co-ordinator is Vuyisile Zenani.
"Our role was to pump in skills and technical assistance," Zenani said.
The first project, Umanyano Lomama, is a greening programme, while Inkqubela is a recycling initiative. The third project incorporates the community radio station, Radio Zibonele.
With his political roots, Zenani was well suited to the job. He describes his background and training as eclectic. Steeped in politics at school and as a student (he was a political and community activist in the Eastern Cape), Zenani first studied to be a Catholic priest before he opted for a certificate in transport economics at the Rand Afrikaans University. With an honours degree (social sciences) from UCT under his belt, he is now gearing up to graduate with a master's degree in religious studies.
"Anyone who works in the townships will know, you must be close to the politics of the township, you must be au fait with how things work," he added.
To implement Eco-Action, the EEU had to form a partnership with the Khayelitsha Development Forum, "the gatekeepers of the community".
The project enjoyed funding from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and USAID. And although it is a tiny initiative when set against the vast global picture, Zenani believes it has value in the broader state of climate change mitigation.
"Environmental care comes back to our role as households, families, and communities," he noted.
Through the community radio station, involving presentations by studio guest speakers and talk shows with community members, Eco-Action was able to sensitise Khayelitsha residents to the importance of collecting and recycling litter such as plastic and cardboard (in return for cash, thanks to Mama Roro's successful recyling project), and advise them where to go for environmental information.
Importantly, Eco-Action also fostered new businesses. "Creating jobs is a vital part of the government's poverty alleviation programme," Zenani said.