On 11 December 2018, The Star published my regular column under the heading, “Filth is no longer an option.” It dealt extensively with the rubbish littering our city, especially the central city area, and asked the question why our people have to live in such squalor.
It is many of the people who populate the area who dump rubbish and litter thoughtlessly or carelessly, without any consequences to themselves, other than having to live in a degraded environment.
I welcomed the imminent changes at Pikitup which appeared to have slackened its efforts and referred to the fact that the littering is not done by the City Council or by Mayor Mashaba who was to be commended for his personal example and efforts in his monthly campaign A Re Sebetseng (“Let’s work”), aimed at cleaning up the city, inspired by the shining example of Kigali in Rwanda.
There has been an interesting sequel. Minister Tito Mboweni, perhaps having read The Star coverage, recently tweeted that he was ashamed of the filthy centre of Johannesburg and compared it with Kigali which he described as a “clean and beautiful city.” He appeared to berate Mayor Mashaba for this state of affairs. Mboweni kept on tweeting about the matter and there was a storm of reaction on Twitter, mostly somewhat critical of him. Many of the social media commentators wanted more than words from the minister: they seemed to want some action. Many others were extremely complimentary about Mashaba’s efforts.
Minister Mboweni is a Johannesburg resident and one has not been aware of his presence at any of the mayor’s A Re Sebetseng clean-up days. If he has attended, pulled on the gloves provided and taken a bag so that he could help collect the rubbish, he has been uncharacteristically quiet about it. Of course, he might consider that as a minister he is far too busy and important to get down and dirty in this way, but instead of just talking about it, he ought to try to set an example by personal action. This might inspire the people responsible for the littering, the litter louts and the illegal dumpers, to mend their ways.
Somewhat surprisingly, and rather self-righteously, Minister Derek Hanekom sailed into the debate and tweeted the following: “Our Johannesburg. The commercial centre of the country. @HermanMashaba you promised so much, but parts of the city are filthier than ever before. Not good. This is a basic municipal function.”
Hanekom, who is a rather amiable fellow, obviously thought he was on to a good thing. Instead, he unleashed a storm of response with what seemed like several hundred replies, almost all taking him to task for attacking Herman Mashaba who is busting a gut to do something about the situation, with little or no support from the ANC, ex-mayor Parks Tau, and especially none from Derek Hanekom.
Hanekom’s highly competent wife, Trish, is a former chairperson of Pickitup and perhaps he is cross that she is no longer that, but sad to say, central Johannesburg was no cleaner under her regime than it is now. She, and the ANC, presided over a long decline so that Johannesburg and other the central areas of towns and cities throughout the country became slums, peopled often by illegal immigrants, forced to live in squalid conditions in hi-jacked buildings where grime, crime and unhealthy conditions prevailed. Many of these buildings have no refuse bins or even sewerage in some cases, and the tenants are forced to pay dearly for illegal electricity and water connections, paying not the city, but the criminal hi-jackers.
Mashaba is doing his best to clean up the city centre and restore it to the decent living area it could and should be; affordable, convenient and close to employment and amenities. He is accused by some of being xenophobic or Trump-like when he states that one of the keys to upgrading and cleaning up the city and restoring the Rule of Law is to bring illegal immigration under control.
Legal immigrants and genuine asylum seekers have rights and must be protected; illegal immigrants need to go home. This requires the government to do its job and the two ministers could help considerably by impressing on the SAPS and on the Department of Home Affairs that it is time South Africa regained control of its borders. Our country needs skilled immigrants who come here to fill gaps and to create employment and pay taxes. We certainly do not need hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.
There may be a consensus brewing. If the politicians from the major parties can agree on the imperative of converting Johannesburg into another Kigali, at least as far as cleanliness is concerned, we might start making progress in persuading parents, schools, churches, civic organisations and children that the filth and the littering must stop. Those who cannot be brought to observe decent standards of cleanliness need to become aware that non-compliance has consequences, with fines for those who transgress. If Singapore could convert itself from a littered mess to one of the cleanest cities in the world by education and rigorous enforcement of litter laws, then so can we.
Mashaba, MMC Nico de Jager and the JMPD need us all to help. I wish to invite Ministers Mboweni and Hanekom, as well as ANC and DA councillors to join me in participating in the next mayoral clean-up in the city centre. Mayor Mashaba, I am sure, will treat positively a request to give urgent attention to an area about which the two ministers are so concerned. This is especially so if they will undertake to join him in personal action instead of lofty words and an expectation that others, not they, will do the work of cleaning up our city.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com.
This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.