Friends who care

Group founded by businessman Schalk van der Sandt is helping to make a difference in Buffalo Flats

Schalk van der Sandt
ON A MISSION: Schalk van der Sandt
Image: SUPPLIED

Aiming to uplift and unite the community, East London businessman and entrepreneur Schalk van der Sandt has, through various projects, dedicated his time and efforts to ensuring his community is clean and safe.

His community group, Friends of Schalk, sees Van der Sandt, 47, and other volunteers implement multiple projects in the greater Buffalo Flats area.

“We as citizens and members of the community cannot wait for the municipality to ensure our area is clean and safe, especially for children,” he said, when asked why he had initiated Friends of Schalk two years ago.

“If we all take part in small efforts to improve our immediate environments, the ripple effect will be an improved city, province and ultimately country.”

Working in various areas, including Second Creek, Vergenoeg, Vynbos, Pefferville, Parkridge, Parkside, and East Bank, Van der Sandt never shies away from taking up the community’s plight, whatever it may be.

Their projects and initiatives include regular soup kitchens, ongoing clean-ups, setting up petitions against various issues such as illegal electrical connections and the damage they cause, helping displaced families, implementing an Adopt a Spot initiative.

“The Adopt a Spot initiative involves community members in identifying pieces of land in and around the area which are neglected by BCMM and used as illegal dumping sites,” Van der Sandt, who grew up in Buffalo Flats, said.

“We then follow a four-step process of adopting these to either turn them into productive, income-generating sites or clean them regularly and plant flowers to bring dignity and ownership back to this culturally rich and diverse community.

“This project also helps to beautify the area, which uplifts the general morale of the community.

Keeping our neighbourhood and townships clean and planting flowers and vegetables is a positive way to beautify and have individuals take ownership of their immediate surroundings. It's a good start

“Keeping our neighbourhood and townships clean and planting flowers and vegetables is a positive way to beautify and have individuals take ownership of their immediate surroundings. It's a good start.”

In Parkside, Friends of Schalk have assisted the community with a petition against illegal electricity connections. 

“This petition is being tabled to the relevant authorities and we are consulting our human rights attorneys for a possible application to have an order granted compelling BCMM and/or Eskom to install additional capacity equipment such as a substation or transformers to manage the increased load and eradicate the illegal connections which are a huge life-threatening risk, hazard and nuisance to legal, tariff-paying community members,” he said. 

Through the group, Van der Sandt has also helped to equip two libraries in Buffalo Flats and Pefferville with free Wi-Fi and is advocating for municipal sports facilities to be maintained. 

“A sports field in the area has been taken over by BCMM, with no consultation with communities, and it has erected 200 temporary housing structures.

“These structures do not have adequate ablution and water facilities.

“The area was a complete health risk crisis when we alerted the authorities to sewage spills, water running continuously from toilets and taps, children obtaining drinking water from toilets, broken ablutions and no refuse collection.

“We had a court order granted to repair ablutions, fix the water wastage issues and for the temporary housing structures to remain there for only a further two years.

“Across from that sports field is another sports field on which BCMM was trying to erect a further 80 structures.

“This field is for soccer and rugby and was one of the fields used in the 2010 World Cup for practice.

“We had another court order granted to stop BCMM.”

He said it was important for the community to have these facilities.

“The sports fields are part of the legacy and build a culturally rich ethos among the youth.

“Sport not only improves health and wellness, but also ensures our youngsters participate in activities which will benefit them and reduce their exposure to substance abuse, which has become prevalent in many areas.”

He said his passion was working with women and children and ensuring no harm came to them, but Friends of Schalk was about uplifting the entire community.

“To work with children and with women is definitely my passion,” he said.

“I cannot see them getting hurt or going hungry. 

“Friends of Schalk’s mission and vision is for community upliftment and development through sustainable projects and initiatives which encourage community involvement and ownership.”

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