Respect for all

2014-07-17 00:00

I HAVE a confession to make. I was not always a Nelson Mandela fan, not since his release that is — but I am now. I wasn’t a fan for the simple reason that I questioned his elevation and being set apart from other liberation leaders such as Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, who shared his qualities.

Silly really, when I realised that as president, his actions were on display and although he did make blunders, like suggesting the lowering of the voting age to 16, he really did live out his beliefs.

Intimate glimpses into his life, through books written by his former jailer Christo Brandt and his personal assistant Zelda la Grange, show that this was not just his public persona — in private he treated his fellow human beings, whether lowly or the “enemy”, with dignity and respect. He changed lives by the example he set.

He showed that you do not have to be harsh and a bully to command respect, and that there is strength in softer qualities such as kindness, courtesy and compassion. In a country rooted in violence and abuse, we needed a Mandela and what he stood for, to remind us that the fight against apartheid was not just for freedom, but for human dignity as well. The battle for us to become a less violent society is one that is more long term. It must never go off the radar. It is the Mandela legacy that our generation must ensure for future generations.

Against this backdrop, President Jacob Zuma’s decision to choose Mandela Day tomorrow as national clean-up day was an inspired choice. Working together, black and white, managers and workers, and neighbours who may not have interacted previously, on simple tasks like picking up the litter or cleaning the verges, will be such a leveller. It will show that there is dignity in all work and at heart we are all fellow South Africans, deserving of each other’s respect. Perhaps, while picking up litter on Mandela Day, the one thing we can practise is to speak more respectfully to each other. Harsh, commanding tones reinforce dominance, and are often the roots of violence. Authoritarianism forces respect, whereas Mandela has shown us that it is much better to earn respect.

What has been amazing about the clean-up campaign is the generosity of spirit among South Africans as they have openly embraced the idea of spending 67 minutes to make the world a better place. As Witness Editor Andrew Trench noted in his column yesterday, the response from Pietermaritzburg citizens has been overwhelming. Many people have been angry and upset that the capital city has degenerated to such a filthy state, but for Mandela, they have put their resentment aside and are getting ready to get their hands dirty.

Still, there are the realists who question why ratepaying citizens, who pay the municipality to keep the city clean, should be doing the work of council employees. Well, the story of Msunduzi is well-known by now, of money squandered to the extent that there was not enough to pay for additional staff, let alone grass cutters, refuse-removal trucks and more skips for the city. The municipality’s fortunes are changing and funds in the coffers are building up. So let us hope that going forward, the Msunduzi Municipality does not squander the generosity of its citizens that will be on display on Mandela Day.

The municipality needs to commit to ongoing maintenance schedules when it comes to keeping the grass cut, the verges clean and repairing broken pavements. There is also the problem of educating our citizens not to be litterbugs and to become more civic-minded. This will require a longer-term engagement, but there are already ideas coming through in this regard, which include:

• having more visible cleaners during the day — having shift work instead of the entire cleaning staff working at night;

• more policing and enforcement of bylaws, with fines or some other form of legal sanction against litterbugs, illegal dumpers and property owners, both private and government, who do not maintain their vacant sites; and

• education campaigns in schools, religious centres and wards on keeping the city clean.

No doubt there will be many more ideas coming up and the municipality needs to welcome these and find a way of working with its citizens.

For a long time there has been a combative relationship between the municipality and many of its citizens. Let’s move on from Mandela Day for the common good of working together for a cleaner Pietermaritzburg.

As Mandela once said, caring for our environment and “a fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world a better place”.

Happy cleaning and Happy Mandela Day.


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