New mindset needed for clean environment

One cannot help but warm up to Saviour Kasukuwere, newly appointed Minister of Environment, Water and Climate. The way he throws himself into his job,

One cannot help but warm up to Saviour Kasukuwere, newly appointed Minister of Environment, Water and Climate. The way he throws himself into his job, the enthusiasm and gusto which he displays and the way he seeks to involve everybody in his escapades, should elicit admiration.


Recently he flew a dozen ministers and senior government officials to Hwange National Park, in the wake of the poisoning of elephants by poachers which left a ton of jumbo carcasses strewn all over the place.

On Friday, he took senior Zanu PF and government leaders to Mbare for a clean-up exercise. Senior Minister of State Simon Khaya-Moyo, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development minister Oppah Muchinguri, were pulled out of their offices to clean up Mbare Musika. They were photographed in immaculate dust coats and hats, and wore face masks as they cleaned up the area.

It was a good gesture, for it shows that Kasukuwere and other senior ministers understand the importance of a clean environment. But this model of cleaning up public places and posing for photographs is problematic; it seems publicity-seeking, is unsustainable and therefore ineffective.

In this column two years ago to the day, I criticised ministers who don clean dust coats and join self-seeking groups in clean-ups, thereby lending them credibility and then, soon thereafter, retreat to their offices and wait for another chance to demonstrate just how passionate they are about a clean environment. 

Interestingly, these sham clean-up operations are always done at these places: Copacabana, Fourth Street bus terminuses and Mbare long-distance bus terminus.

Obviously, that is meant for the groups to gain maximum publicity.

Last year a story ran on how some residents of Chisipite — housewives, gardeners and volunteers — had bunched up together and cleaned their area. One of them was quoted saying, “We’re the people who stay here and it should be our responsibility to clean up our place. It’s our Zimbabwe and our responsibility, so we should stop being cry-babies and act to clean our place. City council should come at a later stage to collect rubbish from our bins and not to pick up the litter for us.”

Were they also seeking publicity? Maybe, maybe not, but this is the kind of model that would work! It says, for starters, clean the area where you live; the better if you do it anonymously. It’s much like the way you clean your bedroom; we know you do it but the world doesn’t have to shake your hand for it. Cleaning must be a natural process that all should take for granted.

If we were to follow the ministers and individuals who cleaned the bus terminuses on Friday to their residential areas, we would probably get the shock of our lives. Go to any shopping centre in the suburbs, both high and low density and you will get what I mean. A typical shopping centre in the suburbs comprises a supermarket or two, several bottles stores, several butcheries and barbecue places. You also have people cooking food on open fires and selling it to revellers who eat the food in the open.

But something is always amiss: there are no usable public toilets at the shops! There are no bins in the vicinity. So what do drinkers do? They buy their canned beer in the bottle stores and when they are finished with the cans, just dump them on the ground. Bottle tops have now formed carpets on the pavements.

And most disgustingly, the drinkers urinate anywhere they please. The result is that the whole shopping centre stinks of urine. Those who cook the food and those who eat it seem not bothered!

The paint is peeling off the buildings because of the urine. In the dark, the drinkers don’t even bother to pee against the walls; they do it wherever they are. In the end cleaning up the place becomes impossible; who would want to pick up urine-soaked litter?

It is these same people who joined the ministers in cleaning up Mbare Musika, who abuse their areas of residence then come into town to clean bus terminuses and have their hands shaken by the ministers! It’s a warped way of doing things. But how do we change this mindset? Change should begin in the mind of every individual. Personal hygiene, which must be considered sacrosanct, should be extended to the environment. One cannot claim to be clean while living in dirty surroundings. It’s simply not logical. Once each individual is aware of the importance of their own cleanliness, the rest follows. This implies a kind of self-policing in which each individual castigates himself/herself for defiling the environment. The next step after this, naturally, would be policing everyone else around us. If a person throws a burger box on the street, everyone should be able to stop him or her and tell them to do the right thing.

All this works perfectly if local authorities also play their part by providing bins and all other facilities that go with cleanliness. Bins in the city are placed too far apart. In Rwandan cities there must be a bin every five metres.

It is disheartening that local authorities have cast away the rule of law; city bylaws are no longer being enforced. There are no fines for littering; if they indeed are, they are not seen to be there. When was the last time anyone was fined for littering?

And why do local authorities allow revellers to drink at shopping centres when they should buy their drinks from take-away stores and go home? Interestingly at every shopping centre there are usually licensed night clubs and sports bars that provide all requisite facilities, but because of non-enforcement of bylaws, drinkers shun these preferring the cheaper bottle stores. Not only does this impact negatively on the environment but it also impacts negatively on legitimate business. Most of the litter we see on our streets and highways is thrown out of commuter omnibuses. Two things can be done about this. First, buses should be forced to carry signage that says: “Please don’t throw litter out the window”. Second, each bus must be forced to have a bin of a reasonable size inside it, clearly labelled “Litter”. In the 1970s every bus had this.

What if, for a change, the notorious minibus drivers and touts took a lead in this?

What if, as in Rwanda, people were encouraged to take day-offs to pick up litter in their city? For this, Kigali is considered the cleanest city in Africa.

Kasukuwere’s zeal should be channelled towards changing the people’s mindset on environment cleanliness rather than on the well-bitten path of useless clean-ups.