There is a certain irony in the title of this article because the very definition of litter is that it falls! It does not necessarily fall by itself as well know. But let’s start in Ghana. I spent a few days at a hotel on the beach in Accra and, as one does, decided to take an early morning walk on the beach. Big mistake! The place was strewn with plastic litter as far as the eye can see. I could not understand why a conferencing hotel, charging the rates it was charging, situated where it was, would allow such a situation to prevail.
The Braamfontein spruit runs through our suburb and several other areas before it gets to us and so you can imagine what happens each time we have higher than normal rainfall. Yep, the plastic litter flows down with the surging waters and ends up caught in the vegetation as the river subsides. And yet, without fail, every year residents along the spruit conduct a massive spruit day and over and above that, in our suburb, residents organise smaller groups of people to do the same as and they find it necessary to clean up.
What has prompted this article? I was driving towards the N14 up the R55 this morning when I noticed an inordinate amount of litter near Olievenhoutbosch, just before the suburb of Thatchfield. It is ridiculous the amount of litter one finds in public spaces and one just has to drive around to see how widespread this shocking state of affairs is.
Sometimes the biggest danger to societies lies in the small incremental nuisances that we see without noting. We are in the middle of a water crisis in Southern Africa and some of the major causes towards the pollution of our water are mining, manufacturing and agricultural insecticides. With the right political will, all of these three can be, to a very large extent, policed and prosecuted. A fourth cause, urbanisation, is however difficult to police, let alone prosecute. There has to be a solution that combines a healthy dose of coercion with a larger dose of moral suasion to halt one of the worst by-products of urbanisation: littering. How best can we stop this urban phenomenon from choking our rivers and eventually our water supply?
A talk show host on a Johannesburg based radio station likes to repeat how we live a filthy country, to use his words, and though this particular station is quite active in community work, I would like to ask, nay challenge, that they and other radio stations get together as part of a selfless collaborative corporate citizenship agenda and run a national campaign, three times a day, at the same time, preferably just before the news. They could come up with a powerful campaign with a compelling by line that will set hearts aflutter, minds in reflection and hands in motion to rally the country to the same cause, that being promoting water resilience. There are quite a few government ministers who use social media, sometimes too superficially, who can be roped in, right across party lines, to the campaign to put their popularity to better and more sustainable use. Once achieved, perhaps the leading television stations would respond to the same by agreeing to do the same with a visually powerful campaign for the same objectives. There are times when competition, whether commercial or political, should be set aside for the common good. This is one of them.
Back to Accra. A group of young men were at the beach when I took my walk. They were picking up litter from the edge of the hotel to the rest of the beach and charging people like myself for the opportunity to walk on a slightly less filthy beach. I declined and walked back to the hotel. If the authorities, electorate, taxpayers and our children do not see the urgent need for water resilience, it will not be long before we witness columns of refugees trekking from an arid region to one with dwindling water supplies. The inevitable conflict will follow and, once again, mankind will have demonstrated her inability for learning and incomprehensible mutual self-destruction. Dropping litter is an individual act. Retaining it in one’s hands until one finds a bin is an act of discipline. The future is literally in our hands and we cannot afford to carelessly discard another piece of plastic waste or wait for a crisis to befall us. Litter does not fall by itself, nor does it pick itself up. I am using my voice to “light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.” I am challenging others with far bigger voices and audiences to do the same. We must act. Now!