We should not get used to living in filth

2017-10-01 06:02
The aftermath of a recent strike by the SA Municipal Workers’ Union, near the high court in Pritchard Street, central Johannesburg. Picture: Lucky Nxumalo

The aftermath of a recent strike by the SA Municipal Workers’ Union, near the high court in Pritchard Street, central Johannesburg. Picture: Lucky Nxumalo

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Have citizens decided to normalise the dirty, rubbish-strewn environment in which they live, play and work?

If one goes downtown in most of our towns and cities, one is confronted by the sight and smell of uncollected and stinking refuse bins. The contents of some have spilt on to the ground.

Municipalities have a member of the mayoral council (MMC) responsible for the environment and the thought that they are being paid is unsettling.

If these MMCs are getting a salary, but their portfolio is not in order, what do they do at work? Should citizens conclude that these people are getting money for doing nothing?

In several cities and towns, one is likely to find a plethora of restaurants and informal traders selling food. How easy it is to swallow food while a mountain of rotting waste is located mere metres from you? Are you likely to finish what is on your plate? What goes through your mind while you are munching?

These days consumers are savvy and with rising incomes there is better information and choice. The days of saying “tshila ga e bolaye” (dirt doesn’t kill) are slowly disappearing.

In some cases, you find parts of the same town or city looking like two different places: one is clean and inviting while the other is filthy and repulsive. One would be tempted to think that some citizens don’t pay their rates.

A filthy environment is a vector for diseases like typhoid which, if they break out, can have a devastating impact on the population and will stretch the minimal resources at the disposal of the department of health. Yet local authorities do not appear to give much thought to having a clean environment.

When confronted with questions about the filth from civil society, municipalities often cite a lack of capacity. What is strange, however, is that year after year, millions of rands in budget allocations are returned, unspent, to Treasury.

Sometimes, it is as if the people in charge of those budgets do not want to spend them for the benefit of society.

Isn’t it time we ask hard questions of those we employ to run our cities? Being paid for doing nothing is tantamount to theft. Within allocated budgets, municipalities should provide whatever capacity is needed to clean their towns and cities.

There is a popular proverb in Northern Sotho: Thibela malwetsi e phala kalafo (Prevention of diseases is better than cure). It rings true when you consider the costs of repairing what was once neglected.

Outbreaks of disease often radically change the social and economic fabric of a society. As a result of a filthy environment, some parts of South Africa were affected by the bubonic plague in the first few years of the 20th century. The vector for this disease is rats, which thrive in filth.

In a country where we need as many jobs as possible, we need an environment where businesses do not have to operate in dirt.

“Host” municipalities have to create the conditions for businesses and people to interact symbiotically.

One of the features that Rwanda is famous for is the apparent cleanliness of its cities. This initiative was spearheaded by President Paul Kagame to achieve various socio-politico-economic goals.

The social aspect is the mandatory monthly community clean-ups of cities, in which Kagame takes part. This coming together for a good cause helps social cohesion.

In a country that was in the news for the wrong reasons in 1994, this step is a bold initiative and has contributed to peace among citizens scarred by genocide.

The political mileage this initiative achieves is closely linked with its social aspect and is testimony to Kagame’s visionary leadership.

The economic benefits are an increased standard of living for the citizens, consumer and business confidence and a place in which businesses can thrive and create much-needed jobs.

Recently, the mayor of Johannesburg started a similar initiative to ensure that residents take pride in their environment. Given that Herman Mashaba is a former businessman, he knows from experience that you need an enabling environment for enterprises to thrive.

It is hoped that other mayors will follow suit, but politicians being politicians, we dare not hope that Mashaba’s efforts will be replicated.

Can you imagine walking on a pavement in town with the peace of mind that comes from knowing you won’t step on to someone else’s fertiliser and that the air you breathe doesn’t contain the stench of rotting garbage?

Kole Legodi is a graduate of the University of Limpopo

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How do we get people to respect their environment and pick up their trash?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword FILTH and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    environment  |  pollution

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