I started walking at The Wilds Nature Reserve years ago. This area has very high healing energy and thus also draws people who may be mentally unstable and seek relief from their symptoms. Because it is secluded it also attracts criminals; some have been known to assault walkers. One group, The Wilds Walkers, still feels safer in a group for they like the section which offers this higher energy and retains the sense of a wilderness within the city.
However, this sense of being on one’s guard has changed dramatically due to the work of the Friends of the Wilds. This group was started and is overseen by John Delaney, an installation artist whose work is on display on the more park-like section.
He has beautified this area, drawn investors to upgrade the entrance, cleared the paths and attracted large numbers of people as volunteers. Many more people now make use of this beautiful space.
Even during the week I now see people walking with ease; I have observed the joy on children’s faces as they spot another metal animal silhouette amongst the trees.
Initially, I was concerned that the work undertaken by Friends of the Wilds was unprofessional and in conflict with city by-laws and international best practice. I raised my reservations with John and with Jo’burg City Parks. This has been resolved.
According to Sandra Viljoen from Jo’burg City Parks, Delaney has signed a contract that potentially makes this volunteer organisation a model cooperative partnership between civil society and local government. At least this is my hope. All work now undertaken goes through the right channels and my understanding is that volunteers are educated on what may be removed or added.
I have heard that a variety of new activities now take place here, particularly on the lawns – there has been a wedding, birthday parties and yoga and meditation. The last time I went for a walk I was amused to see a group of young adults walking with concentration and focus, sort of loosely militant. Yet not. Curious, I asked what they called their group. Bemused, one young man replied, “Walking the land back.”
I laughed heartily and he grinned back. If I meet up with them again, I would like to tell them that in our post-apartheid country public spaces are open to everyone. Yet I realised that there are still people who don’t know that public spaces are for the public, regardless of race and socio-economic background and that the only qualification needed is to obey the by-laws that protect what happens in specific public spaces.
Groups wanting to host an event need to apply for permission from Jo’burg City Parks. That’s all.
The two schools closest to The Wilds Nature Reserve also play an active role in its maintenance. Roedean School came up with the idea of pumping the water that Gautrain directed away from its underground tunnel to the top of the property. The water features are flowing again and water is now available to water the plants as well – a zero waste process that recycles resources intelligently.
A group of St John’s College boys undertook a community service project last week. They were supervised by a family who are both Wilds Walkers and Friends of the Wilds. They removed invasive plants, and blackjacks before they seed, and returned them to the soil. This is how we mimic natural forests to enrich the soil – biomimicry in action while building community and civil society. I imagine that the trees are happy too.
Compliments to Jo’burg City Parks who manage the diverse needs and the wishes of our community. Compliments too to John Delaney who has brought his vision and energy to make The Wilds both safer and an outdoor pleasure to a greater diversity of people. There is nothing more satisfying for me than seeing people working together joyfully towards a blue blue earth!