Johannesburg - A Sharpeville man is using the performing arts to transform dump sites into recreational parks.

He is doing this to create clean spaces and encourage a sense of ownership within indigent communities.

Poet, actor, creative writer and environmentalist Modisana Mabale, of Tshepiso in the Emfuleni and Sedibeng municipalities, said the social movement that he and others had established in the area was slowly bearing fruit.

And testament to this is a park they constructed from a dump site in Ditensheng Section, which has become an attraction for those who previously drove or walked past it.

Mabale explained how their project came about.

“I was documenting illegal dump sites in townships for my honours paper.

"During that time I had started taking photos and video clips when it dawned on me that I needed to sit down and reflect on why people were dumping in the veld, despite municipal workers clearing the site every day,” he said.

Mabale, who is qualified in applied drama and theatre, and founded a small theatre in Sharpeville, said he began to reflect on this issue after noticing the dump site close to his house.

“I interviewed people, and in our discussions it emerged that none of them liked the dumping that was taking place close to their houses and living in filth, while others said they simply discarded rubbish soon after the municipality had cleaned the site, as a form of defiance.

“They believed that if they were given jobs to clean up the site, they would be more willing to put in more effort and protect the environment,” he added.

But Mabale had something different in mind.

Before and after photos of the dumping site in Sharpeville that was turned into a community park through Modisana Mabale's initiative.

As part of his "street arts government" initiative, the 35-year-old said he used the platform to persuade community members in the surrounding area to take ownership and not wait for the government to create opportunities for them.

“I wanted to tell them that they are the government and have the power to do anything they want to,” he pointed out.

His first step was to organise a flash mob at one of the dumping sites.

To do this, he employed the help of fellow artists and they dressed up in their suits and Sunday best and sat eating their food in the dumpster.

Mabele said the reaction of the community members, who wanted to know why they were eating in a dirty place, was all the feedback they needed to prove their point.

“We asked many of them why they felt comfortable walking past dirty places and allowing filth to enter their homes, which slowly changed their perceptions."

He found that a handful of community members had already been planning a site revamp in Ditensheng.

Mabale said his role was simply to guide them and assist them to secure donations for bricks and gardening equipment.

It took them four months to transform the area into what it is today.

And he admitted that it hasn’t been easy.

“People were still throwing their rubbish there, even though we were trying to clean it up. Fellow community members were up in arms and often acted against those who were dumping illegally.

"I guess everyone now understands what it means to work hard for something and take pride in it,” he added.

One of Mabale's biggest supporters was Sharpeville’s theatre practitioner and veteran artist, Gamakhulu Dingiso.

“He encouraged us to own things, instead of following people around and begging. He has taught us the significance of ownership.”

Mabale also highlighted that although communities seek to be independent and play their part in creating safe and clean spaces, the government should not shirk its responsibility in service delivery.

“We embarked on this project without funding. But at the end of the day I am employing people to help me.

"The artists who work with me also have to make a living, they have families they need to care for. I can’t expect them to spend the whole day teaching young children and keeping them off the streets on an empty stomach."

Mabale and his crew plan to tackle other spaces and protects, in line with global sustainable development goals that call for countries to preserve spaces and stop land degradation, among others.

Emfuleni's mayoral spokesperson Lebo Mofokeng said the council was aware of the community project and added that the executive mayor, Jacob Khawe, this week instructed officials to meet with the project leaders.

She said the municipality, in addition to the park, had embarked on similar initiatives under the Cleaning Our City campaign.

Khawe said: “The campaign is not only about picking up litter. We also need to clean out everything that affects the image of our wards.”

Politics and Development