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Residents of Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, have turned a wetland into a beautiful park for all to enjoy.

Leaners from Trinity Secondary School, planting a treeLeaners from Trinity Secondary School, planting a treeTHE dreaded and filthy piece of land has now been transformed into a welcoming and user-friendly public park by Johannesburg City Parks in partnership with the local community.

Speaking at the event, environmental activist Yoonus Mitha said thugs who stole copper wire used to disappear into the wetland, where they burned it to separate the plastic from the metal for the purposes of selling the resultant product.

"This behaviour resulted in the destruction of the vegetation in the wetland. And once an open space was created – as a result of the fires – people dug up the fertile and rich soil to sell to homeowners [for use on their lawns]," he said.

Mitha is a member of the Lenasia Going Green [Legg] Forum, a voluntary organisation consisting of people who want to preserve the environment by planting trees, campaigning for open clean spaces [parks] and "monitoring and improving air quality". The organisation educates the community about the usefulness of wetlands which, among other things, act as air purifiers and assist in preventing flooding.

In keeping with this drive [of creating open spaces], the organisation hosted a ceremony in Lenasia where, as part of the official opening of the park, several trees were planted.

City Parks employees were on hand to assist with the layout and planting of the trees.

Delivering a message of support, Chintz Bhana of the International Association for Human Values, said there could be no sustainable development in a society full of stress and violence. "A disease-free body, a stress-free mind, a violence-free society and toxin-free environment are vital elements of sustainable development. It does not augur well if we keep [on] opening more and more hospitals and prisons as society develops. Access to more hospital beds and availability of more prisons are not signs of development."

Bhana said sustainable development also meant freedom from all types of crime. Destroying the environment, cutting down trees and dumping toxic waste were also criminal acts, he said. "In reality, man’s greed is the greatest pollutant. Greed stops man from sharing with others. Greed also obstructs the preservation of ecology; man is so greedy he wants to make quick profits and achieve quick results. This greed not only pollutes the gross, physical environment but also contaminates the subtle atmosphere; it stimulates negative emotions in the subtle mind."

According to Bhana, these "negative vibrations", once compounded, give rise to unrest in society. "Negative feelings of hatred, anger and jealousy are the root cause of all disasters and misery in the world, whether they are economic, political or social in nature," he said.

Ismael Variava, also a member of Legg, said the organisation, which was set up in 2007, had so far planted more than 5 000 trees in and around the greater Lenasia area, which includes Zakarrya Park.

The opening was attended by Clr Zarina Motala and City of Joburg Chief Whip Prema Naidoo, heard Legg youth leader Mitan Nana call on all concerned citizens, in particular the youth, to come forward and get involved in programmes to "will preserve our environment".