By Elsa Venter, past president of the Rotary Club of Vanderbijlpark, South Africa
More than 6,700 shirts fluttered in the breeze on the Vaal River, suspended from three-miles of cable that zigzagged back and forth between floating pontoons. It was an amazing sight, and one we hoped would earn a world record for longest clothesline stretched across a river.
We began planning this spectacular project 18 months ago with the help of our main sponsor, Unilever South Africa Limited. Annalien Burger, a member of our club, came up with the idea after a sleepless night. The rest of the Vanderbijlpark Rotary club soon enthusiastically embraced it. We wanted to draw attention to our beautiful river and its ecology, promote our club, and recognize the marvelous engineering companies in Vanderbijlpark. We also wanted to involve the community in the project as many ways as possible.
How it was done
Achieving our goal took an engineering feat of nearly impossible proportions. The actual clothing line consisted of four-milimeter cable (supplied by past governor Trevor Nienaber) weaving back and forth between two 38-millimeter support cables (supplied by steelmaker ArcelorMittal). The line was supported by three floating pontoons, the largest at 60 tons (66 tonnes). A 44 ton crane on the opposite side of the river provided tension for the cable. No poles anchored the line to the ground, it ran completely over water. Only the support cables were attached to steel billets on the shore.
We were blessed by the volunteer contributions of a score of engineers, riggers, crane hire companies and boat builders. We also received sponsorship from many of the largest companies in the Vaal Triangle. A safety engineer and quality controller kept things safe.
We received nearly 9,000 shirts for our project, mostly school or sport uniforms, which we will donate to schools in the Vaal Triangle. We planned a program for the entire community to attend, with entertainment for the whole family, including school choirs, drum majorettes, and students from nearby dance studios. A local orchestra performed a classical concert on board while guests enjoyed the show from the top deck of a luxury cruiser. Along the riverbank, we held a design competition for youth. University students dressed in animal head costumes mingled with guests, who learned about water education while young musicians performed.
Every morning leading up to the launch of the project, all five clubs in the Vaal Triangle hosted a tea for senior citizens at Stonehaven on Vaal, where they could sit outside in the warm weather after enjoying their tea and cake and watch progress on the clothesline.
On the day of the launch, special guests and sponsors were treated to a ride aboard the 140-passenger Spirit of Jen, leading a huge procession of ships headed down the river.
Our club is indeed a happy club. And the community benefited immensely through the shirt project. We are awaiting to see if we indeed earn a world record. But in any event, we are happy to show the world what Rotary can accomplish when we bring people from diverse backgrounds together to tackle tough issues in our communities.