Reclaiming Our Future, one street at a time!

As a Leave No Trace event, Streetopia Jozi seeks to leave the area of the event in an even better state than it was found. To make this aspect of the event come alive, a member of our event team, Thandi O-Hagan, has been facilitating a collaboration with the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), who will be on the streets with us come October 12th. Their role? Not to clean up after anyone (because that’s each individual’s job), but rather to ensure that as much recyclable material is reclaimed and put to better use than ending up in a landfill. In this piece, Thandi explains how she connected with the ARO team and what plans are being made for our big day on the streets of Melville together.

African Reclaimers Organisation members marching to save the planet, Nelson Mandela Bridge, Newtown, July 2019

“There’s nothing frivolous about arts and culture.” – Elias Kodidang.

It was my first meeting with the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) and I knew immediately that we’d found the perfect ally and creative collaborator for Jozi’s inaugural Streetopia. An ally who believes in the power of the arts to ingeniously connect communities and a collaborator who pragmatically, supports our principle of #LeaveNoTrace.

Earlier that month, I had been contacted by the Streetopia crew with a request for our collective, Trip The Light Fantastic, (TTLF) to curate a stage for the festival. First principles for the TTLF crew (above and beyond the AfrikaBurn guiding principles) was whatever we do: NO MORE EFFING WASTE! In the way that is collective brainstorming, before we knew it, that goal had sparked the vision of an artistic collaboration with ARO.

The African Reclaimers Organisation is the first organisation to unite all informal collectors engaged in the recycling trade, regardless of their nationality. ARO was formed to protect and support reclaimers who, according to CSIR research, are responsible for ensuring that almost 90% of our reclaimable material is indeed recycled. It is estimated that the (largely unrecognized) work of reclaimers saves our municipalities between R300 million and R750 million a year in landfill space. Pretty darn good motivation for supporting their work.

And that’s how I found myself sitting on a bench in Newtown with Eli Kodidang and Luyanda Bekezela hatching the beginnings of a creative community collaboration. Two months later we’re ready to bring that plan to the streets of Melville.

On the 12th of October, spoken word poet, anthropologist and researcher, Manape Shogole will introduce Luyanda Bekezale of ARO and together, “kick-start” the two-part Graffiti Spray Off:

  • Stencil spraying: Public are invited to work with reclaimers to spraypaint the #ReclaimOurFuture stencil onto “1375’s”, (the bags you see reclaimers wheeling through the city). Thanks to Jaco and Philip for the stencil design idea, to Mia van Zyl for the stencil board (made from recyclable materials), and to Trevor and Mariapaola McGurk for the CNC cutting.
  • ‘Tag the bag’ – a challenge to local graffiti and visual artists to work with reclaimers to transform a “1375” into a mobile art piece.  A big thank you to those artists who’ve already committed your support. If you’re an artist and would like to be involved, please make contact with @Egoligal on facebook so we can put you on the schedule.
The Dung Beetle Project – the machine that creates diesel and LPG from plastic waste.

The Graffiti Spray Off will start at 11am at the Dung Beetle Stage (7th Street, cnr 1st Avenue) and will move to the ARO stall on 3rd Avenue at about lunch time. All participants are encouraged to visit their stall, collect recycling bags, find out what should or shouldn’t go in them and, if your timing is right, you might even catch a trolley ride with Jozi’s ultimate street surfers.

How’s that for community collaboration! As research shows, arts and culture have a surprisingly critical role to play in meeting urban challenges. Festivals that contribute a sense of belonging for people who are historically overlooked, foster connections and in so doing, build sustainability.

A big thank you to the Buy-A-Donkey crew (who host a theme camp at the AfrikaBurn event) and the industrious volunteers who have pre-sewn reflective strips on to the reclaimers bags and helped us meet Eli’s heartfelt call: To please, increase the visibility of reclaimers on the road, for their safety.

Let’s #ReclaimOurFuture – we’re in this together!

As part of our activities on the day, student researcher Manape Ncwane is spearheading an initiative to have the trolleys and collection bags of members of the ARO stenciled or sprayed with graffiti, to liven the collection equipment up and transform them into mobile artpieces.

If you’re a graffiti or visual artist, step up and get involved – mail [email protected] to join us on the day and support this great environmental justice cause!

For more info on this topic, check out the following links:

Leave a Reply