Open letter to citizens of Maritzburg

2010-03-08 00:00

WE all know that the municipality is battling with the city’s financial problems and we all know that the municipal workers are striking, particularly the refuse collectors.

But whose city is this, anyway? Why are we — the citizens of Msunduzi — sitting back and wallowing in our own waste? Why are we so content to live among the ever-growing piles of rubbish that we ourselves have created?

Are we so proud, or conversely, so demoralised, that we can’t lift a finger to tidy up our own city? Are we happy to be sending a statement to the rest of the country that it is acceptable for the residents of KwaZulu-Natal’s capital city to live in filth?

Or are we going to do something about it?

The point is, it’s our city: we live in it and it is irrelevant who does the work to keep our streets clean. We are the ones who are responsible for creating the piles of rubbish that are lying on street corners and clogging up drains. It is high time that we start thinking about how much waste we’re creating in our own homes and be more responsible in disposing of it.

You wouldn’t toss a cool drink can, a cigarette butt or the packaging from your favourite fast-food outlet into your own garden and leave it there to rot. So what makes it acceptable to throw those same items onto the streets where you live?

The current municipal strike is a perfect opportunity for business and the people of Pieter-maritzburg to show each other just whose city it is. It is also the perfect time to drive home the point that we need to take recycling much more seriously, instead of dumping vast amounts of unsorted garbage outside our homes, for other people to collect — much of which could be recycled and greatly reduce the amount of waste that this city generates daily.

On Thursday last week, I was heartened to see Crescent Car Sales using their own vehicles to transport bags of other peoples’ rubbish to the New England landfill site, and it got me thinking: if every person who owns a bakkie or double-cab in this city could do the same, the piles of rubbish would rapidly disappear.

Imagine an Msunduzi ...

• Where every citizen recycles most of their waste at home and drastically reduces the mounds of rubbish that are arriving every day at the city’s landfill sites.

• Where every citizen takes care not to drop rubbish on the streets and, instead, finds a rubbish bin in which to put their waste.

• Where citizens are proud of the city in which they live and don’t expect someone else to pick up after them.

• Where business and citizens go beyond their own self-interest and do what is required to maintain Pietermaritzburg as a beautiful, clean and healthy place in which to live.

There are 700 000 people living in Pietermaritzburg and if each one of us gave just one hour of our time to collect rubbish, we’d generate 700 000 man hours to tidy up our city. Overnight, Pietermaritzburg would be completely clean again.

To paraphrase the words of Nelson Mandela: ”There can be no keener revelation of a city’s soul than the way it treats its environment.”

• Francois du Toit is the director of Msunduzi Innovation Development Institute and a trustee of the African Conservation Trust. He writes in his personal capacity.

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