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Extreme makeover South African style

By Maddie Eagan

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In the heart of Soweto, between two streets of honking cars and crowded township houses sits Diepkloof Extreme Park--a meticulously kept city park, filled with colorful swing sets, healthy trees, and smiling faces.

Waiting for us when we arrived in our 15-seater minibus, still a little dazed with jet lag, were Kogie Moodley from the Johannesburg City Parks Department's Environment Education project and senior horticulturalist and Diepkloof Park manager Mmamoleme "Mamu" Rakoso, holding a stack of wide-brimmed hats with the City Parks logo for the visiting Simmons College group. The bright, unexpectedly warm sun shone on our faces as we sat down on the dark green benches to hear the story behind the park.

What used to be a dumping site is now a government-sponsored "extreme park" that was built in merely 24 hours, said our hosts. It was inspired by the U.S. reality television show, Extreme Home Makeover. But it took much longer to plan, design, organize resources and find external sponsorship for it to arise from just an idea on paper.

The park cost R10 million ($1.3 million) to make and R10,000 ($1,350) per month to maintain. Mamu said the budget and funding were constrictions in its development, but they are committed to keeping it up and running for years while continuing to build more such parks in other parts of the city. One way they do so is by soliciting support from South African businesses in exchange for advertising space.

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CellC, an internet company, is prominently displayed beneath the large television screen that broadcasts Bugs Bunny cartoons for the children and sports events and other programs for adults. The sponsorship companies are featured on an 18-month rotation, with billboards elsewhere in the park, but not so intrusive that they take away from the overall environment.

Most importantly, the community has taken ownership of the park, according to parks officials. They respect it, and rarely litter or vandalize the area. "They are happy to have this," said Moodley.

The city park caters to adults and younger children through their divided sections. The children's section includes benches, a soccer field, play structures and a court to play ball. Young girls descended the slides with joy in their eyes and waved to us for attention. The relaxed adult section contained more open space with people sitting and chatting.

Although we were not there at the park's busiest weekend time, it still seemed quite popular as students walked home from school in their uniforms and stopped for a quick game of ball or to catch up with friends.

Posted by South Africa Group on May 26, 2011 11:18 AM
Category: South Africa