Ramaphosa’s river clean-up boycotted

“I can’t hail Mandela Day when my children don’t have a future,” says Gqeberha resident

By Joseph Chirume

19 July 2022

President Cyril Ramaphosa (centre) took part in a clean-up of the Swartkops River in Gqeberha on Mandela Day. Photo: Joseph Chirume

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s participation in a clean-up of the filthy Swartkops River in Gqeberha did not impress Malibongwe Jim who lives along the river banks.

Jim was one of several Veeplaas residents who boycotted Mandela Day celebrations on Monday. Ramaphosa joined about 500 community members at an illegal dump site to clean up the Swartkops River, clogged with plastic and refuse.

“I was born and grew up here in Veeplaas, but I have never seen this open space being cleared of rubbish,” said Jim, who is 37. “For the first time residents were issued with protective gumboots, gloves, metal sticks and masks. Why can’t this be done every month?”

Other homeowners said joining the celebrations would have made a mockery of their living conditions. They said the area is filthy with raw sewage and the sludge flows into the river when it rains.

Jim has never had a formal job. He does piecemeal work to provide for his wife and two children. He told GroundUp: “I can’t celebrate when my stomach is empty. I can’t hail Mandela Day when my children don’t have a future. President Ramaphosa should instead take stern action against councillors who are giving community work to their family members and friends.”

Boniwe Peter lives near the dump site where Ramaphosa addressed residents. She says a burst manhole in front of her gate has not been repaired for several months.

“The ward councillor came and took photos of the manhole. He never came back. The stench is unbearable. I am happy about Mandela Day because Madiba brought freedom to us. But the current government should listen to its people,” said Peter.

Former mayor Ben Fihla, now 90, said some mayors were tarnishing Mandela’s legacy. “The cleaning of this river and the area around it should not only be a one day event,” he said.

Ramaphosa urged people to “start taking care of their surroundings”.

“It’s been wonderful spending the day with our people here working side by side cleaning this river,” he said. “You will be imparting a message to the people of Gqeberha that they should start taking care of their surroundings. This should be seen as the beginning of a massive clean-up campaign.”

Ramaphosa was accompanied by water affairs and sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, and Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Eugene Johnson.