Rebuild SA: Photos of the Clean Ups Bring Hope!
Photo Cred: Narina Exelby

Rebuild SA!!! There is hope, and from that we can rebuild anything.

 

Howick, South Africa (18 July 2021) – Two days after the air around Howick was filled with smoke and the sounds of gunfire, the community came together to clean up the ransacked CBD… and from the dust and the litter and the trash there rose, hesitantly at first, a sense of solidarity, commitment and compassion.

“Today was a picture of what we can be; a solution; a unified people; an example of what is possible,” said Angus van Niekerk, director of Love Howick, which organises partnerships for positive change. “I was overwhelmed by the incredible response of our community. I feel that giving people a chance to do something about the situation we are facing, inspired hope and reminded people that we are stronger together.”

His sentiments were shared by Nompumelelu Mahlase, a member of the ANCYL, who was also involved in bringing people together for Wednesday morning’s clean-up. “The clean-up showed the Howick community that standing up together is what’s needed in these tough times, because at the end of the day we will all suffer the consequences of a few people due to lack of unity.”

I’m going to step in here and get personal – because that’s just what Wednesday’s clean-up became. Mark Eveleigh and I were headed for the library, the meeting point Love Howick had suggested. But the parking was full, so we drove on towards the taxi rank, a part of town we knew had been hit hard on Monday. We parked up, climbed out with our brooms, and almost instantly someone asked, “can I borrow your broom?”. I looked up – what had been a quiet street moments before was filling up with people walking in from the KwaMavana side of town. Small groups, carrying sacks and rubbish bags, and everyone picking up litter and debris.

“Can I borrow your broom?” the woman asked again. I gave her mine, thinking I’d go home to get a rake, but would take a few quick photos before I did. “Are you with the media?” she asked, looking at my camera. “I’m Counsellor Ngcongo from Ward 7 Cedara,” she introduced herself, then called over a woman wearing a glitzy jumper. “And this is the Deputy Mayor, Mrs Buthelezi.”

I snapped a photo, then they continued to sweep. Half an hour later I saw Mrs Buthelezi far up a quiet street, still picking up trash.

Rebuild SA: Photos of the Clean Ups Bring Hope!
Photo Cred: Narina Exelby
Rebuild SA: Photos of the Clean Ups Bring Hope!
Photo Cred: Narina Exelby
Rebuild SA: Photos of the Clean Ups Bring Hope!
Photo Cred: Narina Exelby

I never went home for that rake. Instead, I spent the morning photographing around the taxi rank, a lump in my throat as people – black, white, Asian, children, seniors – worked together. There was a tangible sense of solidarity: a connection, a shift.

As Mark and I were leaving we chatted a while with Nomsa Mkhize, whose words will stay with me a long, long time.

“I joined this clean-up because it was the least I could do. I love my community and know how much we are going to suffer later on. The consequences haven’t been fully felt yet. Financially, emotionally, spiritually – we have a lot to rebuild. It’s beyond structures and buildings; we need to learn to trust each other again.”

When I asked Nomsa what emotions she’d felt during the morning, she continued: “This morning I was terrified to leave the house. I wasn’t sure how my offer to help would be received, and I left home fully prepared to accommodate people’s anger. As I walked in here some of the men guarding their shop wanted me to leave. They had been attacked on Monday and didn’t know who to trust – because the looters were women, men, children, young and old. I showed the men the cleaning supplies I had brought with me, and some of the business owners recognized me and realized I was not a threat. Then, I became so motivated and inspired when I saw that there were young and old people of all races working together. The mood changed.

“I am hopeful, encouraged by the unity that we displayed together as a community. It’s definitely made me a better person because now I’m more understanding. I know that you have to be the calm one, allow people to vent and process things. We deal and work through traumas differently. I go home now feeling that I’ve been useful somehow. Today I went from feeling fear, terror, excitement, joy, laughter, crying while listening to the shop-owners stories. It has been a life changing day. I learned a lot about the human spirit. There is hope, and from that we can rebuild anything.”

United we stand. #rebuildsa

Rebuild SA: Photos of the Clean Ups Bring Hope!
Photo Cred: Narina Exelby
Rebuild SA: Photos of the Clean Ups Bring Hope!
Photo Cred: Narina Exelby

Sources: Narina Exelby 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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