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creating cleaner, greener and safer cities

We all dream of a community where we can raise our families safely and have green spaces that we can enjoy while walking around our neighbourhoods, getting to know our neighbours. While in the current crime-ridden climate, with poor municipal service delivery, this seems impossible, there are solutions to create such a space and future. 

City-Zen is a community project and non-profit organisation, started by Dan Hunt and Najen Naidoo, who met through their mutual passion for their communities and wanting to be part of the solution to South Africa’s numerous social challenges. Their aim: Creating cleaner, greener and safer cities.     Dan started out cleaning the Rivonia section of the Sandspruit River, spending 10 years cutting back growth and bush along the river banks to create the pristine environment it is today. It is now home to fish, ducks, walking and bike trails and is secured with cameras. During this time Najen was actively working in the community, tackling crime and looking for alternative ways to reduce crime through the creation of jobs for the unemployed and homeless. Soon after meeting, they decided to join forces and form City-Zen.

The aim of City-Zen is to build an active community of engaged citizens who are looking to reduce crime through the creation of employment, whilst uplifting their own neighbourhoods. It is a project by the community for the community.

Research indicates that neighbourhoods struggling with physical decline and high crime often become safer simply when local residents work together to clean and fix up their neighbourhood and enjoy the public spaces together, driving the criminal element out.

City-Zen provides jobs for the unemployed and under-privileged by helping them make a meaningful contribution to the community, to develop basic skills and trust in the neighbourhood, whilst earning a dignified living. City-Zen has a current team of five people, mostly previously unemployed, five casuals and around 10 informal vendors, car guards and beggars at the various intersections, who actively weed, sweep and clean their surrounds. The idea is to provide purpose and meaning to the lives of the less fortunate, whilst providing them with a decent day’s wage instead of their just begging for a living.

The current clean-up area covers well over 10 square kilometres and includes Rivonia and parts of Gallo Manor, Morningside and Bryanston. By raising donations from residents and companies that see the work being done in the area, they are hoping to increase the footprint to more and more areas.   

Their aim is to make a meaningful difference in the city, where residents are willing to donate to help employ the less fortunate to do an honest day of work that the donors can see every day of their lives.

City-Zen’s goal going forward is to inspire a movement across the country, in which they assist other passionate individuals to start up their own chapter of City-Zen in their communities and create a cleaner, greener, safer South Africa for all.

On 12.7.2021, post compilation of this City-Zen article, violence and looting erupted in South Africa, much of the unrest centred on KwaZulu-Natal. Odyssey spoke to Najen Naidoo.

“We need to create economic inclusivity, with a people who have vested interest in the economy and community. There are numerous examples of communities and taxi owners coming together to defend their interests. Why? Because they have something to lose, they understand that these businesses support their lives and their futures. Without this support or hope for the future there is no interest in the country, so to commit crimes and riot shows what little these people have to lose. Without hope for the future, people are easily manipulated by politicians and other leaders with ill-intent, because what hope does is create a sense of belonging and meaning beyond oneself when there is no meaning or purpose in your life. It is up to the citizens of South Africa to take responsibility for our own futures and not just leave it up to government. With City-Zen we aim to create employment within the communities, led by the community, with the community’s best interest at heart. After all, charity does start at home.”

For more information on City-Zen or guidelines on how to implement City-Zen in your community: www.city-zen.co.za. Follow City-Zen on social media @cityzenza.