Cape Town steadfast about being South Africa's 'green and healthy city'
Outdoor gyms in Cape Town are starting to pay off and having these fitness facilities in open air has not only provided safer spaces for many to play informal sports, but more Capetonians are becoming active and healthier, the city’s head of health Patricia van der Ross says.
“The gyms are doing very well in encouraging people to walk around. People from different communities, where the gyms walk more now they have these facilities. More recently I’ve seen even senior citizens walking around and doing a few laps before using the equipment,” she said.
“Seeing children who do athletics and play soccer actually coming to these gyms to exercise and do warm-ups has been the most encouraging thing, and it’s this kind of enthusiasm for fitness that’s turning Cape Town into a healthier city.”
Van der Ross, who is the mayco member for community services and health that also includes the maintenance of recreational parts and facilities, was speaking alongside her counterparts, including mayors from 70 countries, who attended the inaugural Partnership for Healthy Summit in London this week.
At the London summit Cape Town was one of about 10 cities that each received a $75,000 (R1.39m) grant from Vital Strategies, one of the partners of the global network of cities. The grant will see a second cohort of cities joining the Partnership for Healthy Cities policy accelerator programme to adopt strong health policies and develop processes for future policy.
The latest group will join the first cohort of 15 cities launched in 2021. Van der Ross said the development grant will be used to accelerate anti-tobacco legislation, among other things. Some of the programmes the partnership supports include tobacco control, road safety, food policy and overdose prevention.
Cape Town could also soon have a new law that gives its law enforcement officers and the police more powers to enforce the national anti-tobacco laws to protect children, Van der Ross said. As part of this process the city would be engaging various stakeholders, including the SAPS, on a possible enforcement partnership.
“Currently we don’t have all the powers to enforce the national policy on smoking. That means we can’t protect schoolchildren from harmful tobacco use should anyone smoke within school premises or the school precinct. The national policy says there should be no smoking at schools, but we know that teachers do find a way of smoking within school premises due to all the stresses they have to deal with.
“If we regulate tobacco use at schools, we will ensure that children are completely protected from any tobacco exposure ... that teachers who smoke don't do so in front of the children. We know that according to the law teachers are not supposed to smoke within school premises, but the reality is that they do.
“One of the things we are considering is to have designated smoking areas that will be mostly confined to discourage group smoking and to ensure that such smoking areas are completely out of sight from schoolchildren. We also know that even at home children are still asked by parents to buy loose cigarettes for them at tuck shops. As things are, children are not protected from tobacco exposure, and we want to see more enforcement in this area.”
The meeting brought local government policymakers to learn best practices and share with each other what each city is doing to stifle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, and injuries. Cape Town is the only South African city that is part of the partnership, which is led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and supported by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Vital Strategies.
Partnership initiatives included the launch of a smoke-free Cape Town in 2020 which saw public buildings being turned into smoke-free zones to protect non-smokers and help smokers to quit. Among other partnership initiatives was an investment in 47 outdoor gyms aimed at promoting overall fitness levels and physical health.
The outside gyms, scattered around the city, are suitable for most age groups, especially those who cannot afford commercial gyms.
“There are sprinters and middle-distance runners in our communities who are using these gym spaces to actually get themselves better. Some have even been invited overseas to play sport.”
While there had been incidents of vandalism, Van der Ross said community members, including neighbourhood watches, were volunteering to look after these facilities after seeing their benefits.
I believe that with perseverance, we will be able to change people’s mindsets concerning their health and fitness. We are also using these outdoor facilities to draw people into our bigger regional parks where people can be exposed to our beautiful biodiversity and picnic areas in a safe environment.Patricia van der Ross, Cape Town mayco member for community services and health
“I believe that with perseverance, we will be able to change people’s mindsets concerning their health and fitness. We are also using these outdoor facilities to draw people into our bigger regional parks where people can be exposed to our beautiful biodiversity and picnic areas in a safe environment.”
According to the latest Discovery Vitality ObeCity index, Cape Town came out tops for maintaining healthy weight, followed by Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria. Bloemfontein and Gqeberha had the unhealthiest weightings at positions five and six respectively.
Of the 300,000 Vitality checks completed in South Africa in 2022, Cape Town also had the highest percentage of people buying healthy foods, followed by Johannesburg, while Pretoria had the least. But Johannesburg had more active people than any other city. Cape Town had the least number of active people.
To reduce air pollution in Cape Town, the city embarked on a tree-planting initiative, which saw more than 5,000 trees planted in the past two years.
“We understand that as a fast-growing city we need to find ways to up our game and planting trees is one way of that will ensure that we reduce our carbon footprint.
“Our nursery in Newlands has over 6,000 trees that will eventually end up in our public spaces to keep them green. We are also looking at reviving our nursery in Bellville so that we can get as many trees as possible as we turn Cape Town into a healthier city.”
Partnership also saving lives in Lusaka, Zambia
Chilando Chitangalata, mayor of the Zambian capital Lusaka, said since her city had become part of the global partnership, road accidents, which killed more than 3,500 people on Zambian roads, mostly pedestrians, had reduced by 30% since the city started a pilot project to improve safety at schools. Since 2018 the city had introduced infrastructure improvements around six state schools, where children were at high risk of traffic injuries.
New road designs, including sidewalks, speed bumps, crosswalks and rumble strips, which saw school gates relocated, had forced cars to slow down and provided safe walking routes for schoolchildren.
Chitangalata said reducing the speed limit to 30km/h around schools had also contributed to the school safety project's “resounding success”.
“The issue of drunken drivers is still a huge issue in Lusaka, and just two weeks ago schoolchildren were killed on their way from school, but the school safety project has improved safety in schools a lot. We've had about a 30% reduction in both car crashes and traffic-related deaths around schools.
“The idea is to now expand it into a citywide project and not limit it only at lower-level schools as was the case with our pilot.”
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