If one lives in Johannesburg, it’s not rocket science to fathom that the services one pays for are not enough. Garbage strikes, power outages, contentious utility bills or spewing water meters, by-law infringements, drug peddling, errant security guards, crime issues and the effectiveness of our private security companies are part and parcel of suburban living.
From Alexandra to Sandown and from Melrose to Melville, residents are obliged to do their bit; the most effectively policed suburbs are those with effective residents’ associations that work closely with their elected councillors and other relevant bodies.
The Melville Residents Association (MRA) was formed in 2006, following in the footsteps of WARM (Westdene, Auckland Park, Richmond and Melville) and other informal predecessors.
I was among those “elected” to the first MRA committee. The quotation marks apply across time to the fact that most who serve on such committees are the volunteers who put themselves forward or grudgingly agree to do so.
As I recall that first committee, it was often a thankless task with unachievable goals and negativity was a by-product of unresolved issues. At odds about crime and grime in the suburb, often the best we could hope for was a standoff with non-compliant business owners.
Some may ask how that differs from today’s committee and my response is that under the chairmanship of Eric van Gils, the MRA has come of age. With transparency as a key component, committee members are encouraged to take responsibility for their portfolios, while reassured by the expertise among the group, if required.
My own resistance thawed as I acknowledged with hindsight that a lone activist is less effective than a group of like-minded individuals.
It’s no secret that 27 Boxes was always my personal bugbear, which started when I unofficially joined members of WARM to oppose the declassification of Faan Smit Park, named after the man who left it in perpetuity to the people of Melville, providing it remained a park.
After legal action to stop declassification failed, WARM fizzled out. Perhaps its scope was too broad and it became clear Melville’s issues required a dedicated residents association.
The fate of Faan Smit Park and its long delayed transformation, felt like defeat to many of us who opposed the ill-considered container-development. The latter’s failure to perform amounted to a crisis, which led me back to the MRA committee.
Almost at once I saw the value of being on this committee, where legal expertise and shared responsibility make one hopeful. 27 Boxes is not yet out the woods, but we at least stand a chance of sorting out this problem child. It is but one of many issues getting attention from the committee.
Now when people say they are too busy, I challenge them to attend at least one meeting. They will find a group of volunteers who are all busy in their day jobs but who remain determined to preserve and promote Melville.
We certainly do not all agree with each other on every issue but we trust each other’s integrity and recognise that compromise is sometimes the best option.
Sound implausible? Well, don’t take my word for it; come to a meeting on the second Tuesday of the month. You might even discover – like me – that it is an enjoyable couple of hours getting to know people who share a passion for Melville and who are committed to its well-being.
Put another way, to paraphrase the words made famous by President John F Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address(1)
, “ask not what your suburb can do for you – ask what you can do for your suburb.”
- MRA meetings are held on the second Tuesday of the month at an appointed Guesthouse. Residents & Businesses are welcome to attend. Please contact the MRA a week in advance for any additions to the agenda.
Suzanne Brenner is a resident volunteer on the 27Boxes Portfolio Sub Committee.
(1) JFK’s now famous line “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” was allegedly plagiarised from his school headmaster, George St John.