BULAWAYO – Nine-year-old Mcedisi Hlabangani kicks an empty bottle of sterilised milk as he passes through the Tsholotsho business centre on his way home from school.
With his satchel sloppily tucked on his back, clad in his khaki uniform, the boy’s inclination in kicking the empty bottle is evidenced by the way he keeps pursuing it.
As he strolls past the hectic business centre across to the residential area just behind, the boy springs another thunderbolt to the “innocent” bottle and softly it lands closer to a used condom abandoned near a tiny thorny bush tree. Surprisingly, Mcedisi ignores the bottle and goes for the unfamiliar item. From his looks, it appears its game over for the empty bottle.
In clear anxiety and exhilaration, he calls upon his same age peers who also derive equal enthusiasm. The next thing the condom is later sketchily rinsed in water before being carved into a new play ball — a balloon.
The story of Mncedisi is typical of Tsholotsho district in Matabeleland North Province about 98 kilometres north-west of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo where the local authority has failed to do justice in as far as collecting refuse as well as undertaking environmental awareness.
Driving past the business and the administrative section of the district one can tell how the people of Tsholotsho have apparently allowed their environment to become gradually tainted.
But it is such levels of neglect that prompted a Harare-based organisation, Africa Book Development Organisation (ABDO) to team up with the Environmental Management Agency and the Tsholotsho Rural District Council to play a mitigating role.
ABDO specialises in assisting marginalised schools through a voluntary supply of writing and textbooks including paying school fees for the disadvantaged families.
After detecting the problem in the district, they shifted their focus to environmental awareness.
Tsholotsho RDC acting chief executive officer Khumbulani Sibanda expressed concern at what he termed disgusting garbage in the district.
“If you walk around Tsholotsho Business Centre, you are met with disgusting sights of garbage and litter thrown everywhere. It is not the responsibility of these innocent children from our schools to come and pick up this litter neither is it for people from Harare and Bulawayo,” Sibanda told a gathering during the awareness programme.
He said diapers and used condoms were dominating the litter at and around the business centre posing a grave health hazard.
Sibanda challenged the business community, farmers as well as the general populace in the vicinity to be cognisant of the effects of littering and wanton cutting down of trees.
“We cut down trees willy-nilly causing desertification. The Kalahari desert in Botswana is creeping into Tsholotsho because of sever deforestation taking place. Talk of this time of the year where veld fires engulf vast swathes of forest, we need to be careful,” he warned.
The CEO expressed concern over wanton cutting down of trees and killing of wild animals in the district which he said was contributing to environmental degradation.
He called for extensive awareness programmes to be conducted while urging the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) to act swiftly in enforcing the law.
Speaking to the Daily News on Sunday Matabeleland North Ema provincial manager Chipo Zuze Mpofu hailed the decision taken by ABDO in ensuring the community get informed on environmental issues.
“Our principle as Ema is environmental protection through such stakeholder’s participation,” Zuze said.
“It is encouraging to see such organisation like ABDO taking a lead on issues to do with environment. As an organisation we are working on moving from having environmental clean-up campaigns events but it is a process,” she said.
Zuze said they were somewhat disturbed by the level of littering as well as destruction of the fauna and flora in the district.
“We have been doing our best in enforcing laws to the local authorities as well as urging them to craft own laws that help preserve the environment,” Zuze said.
Unconfirmed reports indicated that Tsholotsho RDC was recently fined $5 000 by Ema over littering claims.
The RDC has for the past years reportedly failed the people of Tsholotsho with regards to refuse collection. This, according to health experts has stood as a ticking health time bomb.
While she indicated that Ema was out in full force to raise awareness, she admitted their effort on the ground was limited.
“Most people here are not interested in things that benefit them after a long time. We face attitudinal problems. But apart from engaging the Zimbabwe Republic Police we have engaged schools in trying to catch them young with regard to environmental awareness,” Zuze added.
Elson Ndlovu, the district literacy coordinator also admitted that Tsholotsho was really in a bad state.
“I think the reason why this district was now filthy is because, our council was not doing much to address the anomaly but with this initiative I hope to see a change in the way cleanliness is priorities by the council,” Ndlovu said.
“Just recently we saw the council collecting refuse at least twice a month and the move by Ema to try to extensively enforce laws to maintain the environment is commendable,” he said.
ABDO projects officer Antony Sungisai said his organisation focused on marginalised and most affected areas in the country.
“Issues to do with the marriage must be dealt with urgently. We managed to plant a number of trees here and this was just a demonstration to the community that we can play a big role in mitigating effects of environmental degradation,” Sungisai said.
“It’s sad that when you come to this place you are greeted by condoms strewn all over, plastics and diapers. We are saying that is detrimental not only to our health but to our future as well,” he said.
In a bid to ensure the massage reaches a wide spectrum, the organisation invited about seven local schools, government departments, the community and various stakeholders.
“In addition, we distributed related books and nursery trees to several local schools in the district”.
Sungisai cited lack of information and ignorance as major factors causing a negative impact on the environment.