Today, to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day and to honour the great man’s legacy, I devoted my time, along with members of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament and members of the Mitchells Plain Community, to clean up a stretch of walls facing onto AZ Berman Drive in Tafelsig, Mitchells Plain. These walls have, over the years, become defaced by gangster insignia as they tried to stake their claim across several Cape Town communities. But today we took these streets back.

I was joined in this task by Ricardo McKenzie and Reagen Allen, both members of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, as well as Tertuis Simmers and JP Smith, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the DA in the Western Cape. Several team leaders from local neighbourhood watches, as well as Ian Cameron from Action Society, also joined us. This broad cooperation to reclaim a piece of Tafelsig from the criminals and gangsters represented what we call the whole-of-society approach to fixing our country and rebuilding our communities.

Fighting gangsterism through law enforcement and crime prevention is critical in these besieged communities, but there is so much more that the rest of the community can also do to drive out criminal elements from their streets. By scraping off, cleaning and repainting these walls, we are saying to the gangsters: This is not your wall, this is not your street, this is not your corner. It belongs to the people of this community, and we are taking it back.

The section we cleaned and prepared for painting today will in future become part of a green corridor linking public spaces, where pedestrians feel welcome and safe. Replacing these gang tags will be community-inspired murals and wall art, and there will also be a cleanup of litter and, ultimately, a greening of this corridor.

We welcome the involvement of Action Society in today’s cleanup, as they have long been visiting these communities offering their expertise in training neighbourhood watches. We are also proud to have worked alongside several team leaders from local neighbourhood watches today. These are the same people who patrolled these streets around the clock during last July’s riots, ensuring that their community didn’t fall prey to the looters and vandals. They are the embodiment of what today’s community service was all about.

Collaborative initiatives such as this one here in Tafelsig, along with the ongoing community cleanup operations undertaken by Cape Town Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis, are proof that a whole-of-society approach always delivers the best results. When citizens become involved, they gain a sense of ownership and pride, and the projects become sustainable in the long term.

Street by street, we will return these neighbourhoods to their rightful owners and let the gangsters and drug dealers know they are not welcome here.

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John Steenhuisen

John Steenhuisen is federal leader of the Democratic Alliance, opposition party of the Republic of South Africa.

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