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Residents' groups teamed up with community volunteers and City Parks to clean Braamfontein Spruit and clear alien plants.

Members of the Johannesburg Junior City Council who volunteered to come and do their bitMembers of the Johannesburg Junior City Council who volunteered to come and do their bitCITY Parks joined forces with residents associations along Johannesburg's Braamfontein Spruit in a first time, massive joint clean-up on Saturday, in the city's northern suburbs as part of a call to action to mark World Environment Week, from 1-7 June.

Enthusiastic community members and individual volunteers, as well as representatives of NGOs, recycling companies and City Parks, and Extended Public Works Programme workers participated. Together they cleaned up litter, removed alien trees and plants, and cut back bush in what was hoped would be an ongoing partnership to keep the spruit clean and its surrounds a welcoming place for joggers, cyclists, dog walkers and wildlife. Families of ducks and Egyptian geese could be seen peacefully swimming in the spruit while everyone was hard at work on the river banks.

The section of the spruit running through Delta Park in Victory Park was the hub of the operation. Along with the clean-up, there was a programme of talks about the spruit and its environs. People shared their views on the benefits of the joint labour.

Landiwe Mashige, City Parks' head of integrated catchment management, said the municipal-owned entity had become involved "through the residents associations, who were mobilising to clean up the spruit". Mashige's unit takes care of all water bodies in Johannesburg – spruits, streams, wetlands and rivers and the health of their eco-systems. The initiative was driven by the Parkhurst Residents and Business Association, which had mobilised the City and other associations.

"The spruit is being cleaned up from Greymont to Paulshof and it's been wonderful for communities to take part in environmental management. We really want to keep up this relationship with the residents."

Alien invasion

City Parks' Landiwe Mashige, head of Integrated Cachement Management,  led the initiative from the CP parks side, Rose Abdullah City Parks who works in Region B – oversaw the refuse, grass/branch removalCity Parks' Landiwe Mashige, head of Integrated Cachement Management, led the initiative from the CP parks side, Rose Abdullah City Parks who works in Region B – oversaw the refuse, grass/branch removalCity Parks' acting senior manager of Region B, Alton Ranking, who was managing the group of workers, said it was through meeting the residents who were keen on cleaning up the spruit that City Parks got involved and wanted to support the initiative. "Today, there are 29 City Parks staff members here, including people from the Community Works Programme. We're here to get rid of invasive alien trees and plants, cut the grass and cut back shrubs and weeds. Basically, it's a horticultural clean-up. With our joint interest in keeping the spruit clean, this lends itself to a brilliant partnership. And we can also contribute by educating communities on how to clean up."

Pieter van Zyl, who heads the park portfolio for the Blairgowrie Community Association (BCA), said: "We're very grateful for City Parks doing this on a weekend. Their trucks are removing all the litter and bushes. It's the first time all the suburbs have come out to clean up together. Everyone has been doing it on an individual basis up until now.

"Seven years ago this area was dangerous and dirty, now with the joint clean-up and the ongoing contribution of the nearby Wendy Avenue spruit residents, and residents such as Craighall Stables owner Wendy Tebbut and long-time residents Wally and Carmen Stuart, have been instrumental in keeping the area safe and clean."
Van Zyl said the association also had two people who cleaned up the section regularly, supported by the group and business sponsors.

Joggers and mountain bikers

Residents Glen and Robin Mills said the spruit was very well used, with joggers, dog walkers and mountain bikers using it daily. "A 5km race is run every Saturday, originally started by Comrades winner Bruce Fordyce."

Mills and Van Zyl both agreed that the "look and feel" of the area had changed for the better. "People have even started to have picnics here."

BCA's Gail Jelley, head of parks beautification, said the association appreciated "the support of City Parks in removing all the refuse, cutting back the grass and bushes and helping with the removal and poisoning of alien vegetation".

Natalie Zimmelman, head of the environmental portfolio of the Parkhurst Residents and Business Association, said the joint clean-up operation was initiated by member Greg Hirschson, who held the infrastructure and maintenance portfolio. "Greg suggested that all the residents associations along the spruit join forces with each other to do the mass clean-up. I took the idea to our ward councillor, Tim Truluck, and to City Parks, which came on board. Their team, led by Mercedes Hadebe, along with Alton Ranking and Landiwe Mashige, have been great."

Enthusiastic teens from the Johannesburg Junior City Council were also eager to do their bit. Candice Elliot, 16, the environmental committee chairperson, said: "We are involved with Greenpeace and they contacted Natalie to say we'd like to help. This is our local area and we believe that the youth should be involved in protecting it."

Stop crime and grime

City Parks Acting Senior Manager of Region B Alton Ranking with the City Parks and Community Works Programme teamCity Parks Acting Senior Manager of Region B Alton Ranking with the City Parks and Community Works Programme teamWard 102 councillor David Potter, was standing in for the area's Ward 90 councillor – of Willow Wild, Blairgowrie and Bordeaux. He praised City Parks and said it was "an opportunity to work together as a group. This event is the first of its kind, and hopefully it continues. It should be every quarter. This clean-up is encouraging and helps to stop crime and grime. Safety is of great concern to residents."

Rose Abdullah of City Parks, who is responsible for Region B in which Delta Park is situated, organised the removal of refuse, branches and grass. She proudly said that the workers, when told that finishing time was 1pm, responded: "No, we want to stay until everything is cleaned up, however long it takes."

A cyclist from the suburb of Robin Hills, David Harrington-Johnson, painted a black wattle stump with poison. He'd found out about the clean-up when cycling along the spruit – he commutes on his bicycle daily to Sandton along the river. "I'm very lucky. I don't have to deal with traffic; there's no stress. I feel really good about contributing to this initiative. The number of mountain bikers who ride the spruit have definitely contributed to a safer trail. There are many of them, and many people walk their dogs even around 6pm. There's a sense of freedom and safety here."

Geoff Lockwood, the resident manager of the Delta Park Centre and an enthusiastic birder who has lived here for 32 years, said each group with its different agenda for the clean-up had a positive knock-on effect. "We [at Delta Park]are on the receiving end. It's a nice to come out and celebrate this clean-up. With regard to alien invasion, we are controlling it by pushing it back and then slowly planting indigenous trees in their place. And the return of wildlife to the spruit is a great measure of success. Over 25 years ago, giant kingfishers used to nest around here. Now they are slowly being seen again. During the period when this section of river was being rehabilitated, a family of otters appeared."

Braamfontein Spruit

Braamfontein Spruit is the city's longest and most popular stream. Its name means "spring of brambles". Running underground from Barnato Park High School in Berea, it makes its way towards Parkhurst. Along the way it meets the Westdene Spruit. The third stream to join is the Montgomery Spruit, with two small branches – one in Albertville, another in Albert's Farm, Albertskroon. These two streams converge in Roosevelt Park, and from there flow towards Parkhurst. The three streams merge at the bottom of Rustenburg Road and flow through the western edge of Parkhurst, heading towards Delta Park. From there, they wend their way through the northern suburbs, heading towards the river's confluence with the Sandspruit at Sunninghill Park. All these streams meandering through the suburbs form the source of two of southern Africa's mightiest rivers – the Limpopo and the Orange.