The Dustbin Fairy

If you have ever seen the slums in the movie Slumdog Millionaire, it’s pretty evident that rubbish can pose a bit of a problem if it isn’t disposed of properly. For those who haven’t, the Mumbai slums are pretty minging and that’s about the crux of the matter. This is a movie which should definitely be broadcast to the masses not just in South Africa, but globally in order to emphasise the fact that litter can’t throw itself the bin.

I still find it hard to grasp that in a non-third-world nation such as South Africa, people cannot work out, or maybe just don’t care that they are surrounded by litter and that it poses more than a singular and minor problem – especially in places such packed settlements like townships. People here live in such a beautiful country and they choose to take no pride in their home. It’s like taking a dump on your best-friend’s face….you just don’t do it.

Driving along my route to and from work, the verges of the N14 highway are more often than not littered with waste, which is to put it bluntly, aesthetically vulgar. More worryingly for me is that the rubbish contributes to a proportional increase in speed as my foot subconsciously depresses the accelerator in an effort to shorten my visual distress. On more than one occasion I’ve seen plastic drinks bottles being hurled from the windows of cars and minibus-taxis and on one occasion I’ve even observed a car pulling up to dump their KFC bucket and associated memorabilia on the roadside. Hello!!! (from atop my soapbox) – who do they think is going to pick that up?! The Dustbin Fairy, last time I rifled through my book of mythical creatures does not exist!

Surely it would be just as easy to hold on to the items and put them in a proper bin which is collected on a weekly basis by the local municipality? Bins are almost everywhere. This is after all what we pay our rates for and it costs more money to implement additional ‘public’ services to manage littered waste, i.e. taxpayer’s money. Instead, this ‘Pedigree choice-cut’ of society chooses to add to the ever increasing piles of the stuff without batting an eyelid. You don’t have to have a degree from the University of Pretoria to realise that it is morally astute to keep the environment which you live in tidy. It also doesn’t cost you anything extra to bin that which you no longer require and I’m sure they might one day even come to associate disposing of their waste in the correct fashion with a warm fuzzy feeling.

Laziness, immorality and a lack of self respect still have their places in society, or so it seems. (Ping!) I’ve just had a thought. Maybe these offenders think that they are doing the country a favour by providing unlimited employment for the country’s litter pickers (and that they are in fact cleverer than we give them credit for)? Letting my little cynicism monster out to play, I would bet that a large percentage of these delinquents choose not to pay tax and therefore in fact don’t care about the problem which they are creating. Maybe they should be locked up and forced to be a part of a litter collecting chain-gang who litter-pick all day long – public shaming….there’s nothing like it!

If you have been in South Africa during the dry season, controlled burns of the grassed road verges and reservations are carried out to control the risks of wild fires during the winter months. It is quite something to see, especially after dark. These burns go some way to reducing the roadside litter and sometimes you might even observe your locality municipality collecting, bagging and then burning the litter in an effort to temporarily alleviate the problem.

The ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality is another trait of the Cretin Brigade. Townships which border highways and/or embankments will boast their own ‘Kilimanjaroes’ of rubbish created by residents lobbing their waste over boundary walls and fences due to sheer laziness – there are formal rubbish collection points where they can legally dispose of their waste, but it does involve walking a little further their garden gate in order to do so. I passed through one of the townships this weekend and saw a ‘mechanic’ take a full tray of vehicle oil, which he’d obviously just emptied from the truck sat on his driveway and lobbed it down the nearest street drain. I almost reversed my bakkie just to run over him, as he was clearly delusional and a danger to both himself and society.

Apart from the unsightly problems associated with litter there are the health concerns. For starters it pongs, but it is also a breeding cesspit for all manner of nasties. Rats are one of the latter.Township rats are some of the biggest, meanest and bad-ass rats that you will ever see. Some of them are the size of cats and many times township babies turn up in the hospital where my friends work with their faces eaten (you read right) by these animals, whilst they were sleeping. Even if the babies are awake, they are powerless to do anything against the beasts and are easy pickings when it comes to food, should these rats tire of eating the Kilimanjaro mounds of general litter.

I would say that education and a firm hand are the drivers of change in this situation, but sometimes I even think that such common-sense education is lost on some people. The proverbial cockroaches are too busy drowning to be able to concentrate on anything but the most basic life-support functions. ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ might be a catchy campaign tagline, but a big stick will yield results.

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