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Clean-up campaigns: Are they helping?

When a newly-established non-governmental organisation known as Proudly Zimbabwe Foundation (PZF) came onto the scene with so much verve and denounced littering, declaring that the end of 2013 would see a litter-free Harare CBD — after which their Bin-It Zimbabwe campaign would be taken to other areas — I was bought! The organisation convinced me, and I am sure many others, that it was only a matter of time before Harare claimed back its Sunshine City status.



So amazing was the determination by especially the PZF founding trustee, Mbare-born Fungai Chiposi — whose dream was, and possibly still is, to turn Zimbabwe into one of the cleanest countries in the world — that in 2014 he embarked on a 1 000km-journey that he dubbed the “Green Walk” which took him from Plumtree in Matabeleland South through to Forbes Border Post in Manicaland and then to Harare — walking 40km a day until completion, all the while spreading the anti-littering message in the areas he passed through. This was followed up by extensive clean-up exercises.

Two years later, it is hard to see any results of the clean-up efforts by Chiposi and other like-minded people that made a lot of effort in attempts to end littering. In fact, it seems the litter problem has since catapulted to unprecedented levels. Harare CBD today resembles one huge garbage dumpsite and littering seems to have become so entrenched into people’s lifestyles that many seem to now view it as something normal. From the look of things, there is even a strong possibility that there are a number of people that do not realise that littering is an offense that carries a penalty — even though some of the police officers themselves do not seem privy to this piece of law.

There currently seems to be a stiff competition going on between the street vendors and the commuter omnibus operators on who can litter the most — and there is no clear winner yet.

When the groups call it a day, usually way into the night, their places of operation would be covered in litter — the extent of which might make the city council cleaners wish they could just quit their jobs. Meanwhile, those responsible for the litter seem to carry the attitude that those that are employed to clean up the city should clean up after them. Unfortunately, while the clean-up frenzy of especially the year 2014 saw the city council cleaners also being caught up in the excitement and could be seen each morning armed with brooms and diligently cleaning the city; today they are no longer as diligent. Maybe they have become exhausted of everyday cleaning areas that would be back to their filthy state the next morning.

When I attended a Miracle Missions workshop in Highlands, Harare sometime back in 2013, I remember one speaker boldly declaring that all the clean-up exercises would come to nought as long as there were no concerted efforts to also change people’s mindsets in regards to the act of littering. How so right he was.

Clean-up campaigns — even by men and women in high offices or the Environment minister herself — will never be enough to end littering, evidenced by how the cleaned up areas are soon once again infested with dirt.

What is needed is to make everyone understand why littering is bad; that by one picking up after themselves and ensuring they live and work in clean environs, they are not doing anyone else but themselves a favour. It is also necessary to make the generality of Zimbabweans realise that while it may be tempting — in the rush of trying to make an extra dollar — to not bother about cleanliness and take it as a secondary issue, the dirt would certainly come back to bite them in the form of diarrhoeal diseases and other such ailments that tend to thrive in dirty environments — say the recurrent typhoid. Make people also understand how the dirt reduces the country’s value as a tourist destination, and how that has a bearing on the wellbeing of the country as a whole.

It is possible there are some organisations or individuals currently busy with preparations to undertake yet another clean-up exercise — which is highly recommendable.

However, I would appeal to them to also consider other avenues that might otherwise bring forth better results than mere cleaning up has so far done. They could incorporate educational programmes that endeavour to change the way people think, for when one litters, the problem is with their mindset, which definitely requires some working on.

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