Two rivers on opposite sides of Cape Town have been “brought back to life” by community volunteers after being heavily polluted. The rivers include the Liesbeek river, and the Mosselabank river in Fisantekraal.

Andrew Bennet, researcher at the University of Cape Town Future Water Department said that the role played by “communities of practice” were key in what has been achieved.

Speaking at the Water Institute of Southern Africa conference in Cape Town Bennet said, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a common concern or passion for something they do‚ and learn how to do it better as they interact with each other regularly.”

In Liesbeek River’s case, concerned residents formed the ‘Friends of the Liesbeek’ in 1991, with a goal of cleaning up the badly polluted river. Since their inception the ‘Friends of the Liesbeek’, have had some major successes, including bringing the highly invasive Purple Loosestrife plant, which was discovered in 2009, under control. “Today the Friends‚ supported by funding from businesses along the river’s course‚ employ eight full-time workers to look after and maintain the river,” said Bennett.

“Looking after their river is the core action that has held this community together since 1991. They partnered with local business that saw what was happening… and wanted to get involved.”

On the other side of Cape Town in Greenville, in Fisantekraal, the Mosselbank River conservation Team was formed to help clean up the overly polluted Mosselbank River. The community has signed a co-operation agreement with the Western Cape provincial government‚ but this was only as good as the intent and goodwill of the parties involved to make it work‚ said Bennett. The community in Greenville undertakes a variety of activities involving the river‚ including successful campaigns to clean up pollution and garbage.

These projects successfully prove the value of practices that bring together communities and people to build relationships and improve their environment. They also help stimulated authentic learning‚ generated new knowledge and promoted collaborative processes within a community, said Bennett.

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