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Supplied image.

Meet Joburg’s green team who care passionately for the environment, create employment and uplift communities

By Norman Cloete Time of article published May 29, 2021

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Despite the doom and gloom of the times we live in, ordinary South Africans are hard at work making sure we have greener and safer cities.

The City-Zen Community Project, was started by Dan Hunt and Najen Naidoo, who both share a passion for empowering people.

Hunt’s green journey began when he started out cleaning the Rivonia section of the Sandspruit River, spending 10 years cutting back growth and bush along the river banks to create a pristine environment.

Today, the area is home to fish, ducks, with walking and bike trails and has security cameras.

Naidoo was actively working in the community tackling crime and looking for alternate ways to reduce crime through the creation of jobs for the unemployed and homeless.

Soon after meeting, the duo joined forces to build an active community of engaged citizens who are looking to reduce crime through the creation of employment while uplifting their neighbourhoods.

City-Zen has a team of five, mostly previously unemployed, five casual workers and around 10 informal vendors, car guards and beggars at the various intersections who actively weed, sweep and clean their surroundings.

The founders said the idea is to provide purpose and meaning to the lives of the less fortunate while providing them with a decent day's wage instead of them only begging for a living.

The general clean-up areas cover more than 10km² and include Rivonia, parts of Gallo Manor, Morningside and Bryanston.

One of the success stories of City-Zen is Moses Kwene, who together with Hunt, spent their weekends cleaning up the Sandspruit of Edenburg, Rivonia.

“It started out as a challenge, because someone said, we would never get rid of the garbage or get the area ‘right’. Challenge accepted. A weekend hobby, turned into an incredible, transformative clean-up, job creating community project,” said Hunt.

Working together with vendors, recyclers and growing the awareness of everyone as a whole, kept Kwene excited about his work and community.

“A dirty area brings crime, as it shows that nobody cares, but when you see cleanliness, there is a sense of care and pride and no shadows for crime and criminals,” said Kwene.

Kwene said he credits his work ethic to his grandfather, who taught him and his passion to his grandmother, who raised him.

“The longer you do your work with passion, it just becomes part of you are. I have the best eye for my community. Ubuntu; I am because we are,” said the City-Zen ambassador.

Another City-Zen shining light is Amos Mabele who was employed by Hunt on a temporary basis when he lost his job in construction.

“Mabele was the original worker and creator on the Sandspruit. He did such a great job, was so consistent and reliable. He is thorough, loyal and he loves any project he is given to do. You know when Mabele has spent the day in your garden, as it sparkles and looks cared for,” boasted Hunt.

Gift Mahakana, the latest asset to the City-Zen team, was working as a waiter in Sunninghill, but had lost his job and joined the City-Zen team.

“He is the new ‘kid’ on the block and just fits in perfectly with everyone on the team and beyond. He works hard, quickly and thoroughly. He is a really quick learner and wants to learn as much as he can, about the environment and his community. If you ever need anyone in a hurry, Gift springs across the Sandspruit like a gazelle and you will always get a smile,” said Hunt.

The duo said South Africans can improve their lives and take an active interest to help the poor they come in contact with by providing them with purpose and the dignity of a job.

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