By Mhlomuli Ncube

When a nation decides it has had enough of dirty moments and places, when there is a general consensus that more needs to be done to prioritise hygiene, perhaps even more important is when citizens decide to take action and start literally cleaning up their act.

This drive has resulted in the “National Clean-Up” campaign whose importance cannot be downplayed considering the dire need for quick fix solutions.

Zimbabwe must be clean and will one day be clean.

The challenge for most people is that accepting dirt as the normal has become ingrained in most people.

Many argue that the reason why Harare lost its ‘Sunshine City’ status and became a backyard of litter and many other unhygienic tendencies has been because of its huge populations.

But hold that though, what about other cities around the globe with populations that triple the size of Zimbabwe yet have maintained their levels of cleanliness?  Neither is that reasoning justified nor is it factual.

Arguing for what constitutes a clean city, one global think tank notes that, “To be a clean city, you have to solve the problems that can lead to unsanitary living conditions, and, ultimately, poor health. This predominantly means that waste management needs to be well organised and the city needs to have a good waste system in place”.

Waste management plays a key role in controlling how a city and ultimately a nation may fare in the battle against littering and dirt, and so Zimbabwe has defined its own special path and there is a feeling that it all should begin with attitudes.

As every town and city takes its place in national clean ups, even those on the peripheries have not been left out. The border town of Beitbridge sees itself as a key player in that quest for a clean environment. It’s a challenge, however, is a bit unique in that it handles huge volumes of transit populations every day if not every hour. And that is where the headaches for the municipality elders start.

While welcoming these huge transit populations passing through this border town, they have had to deal with the aftermath of their visits manifesting in the form of litter thrown around everywhere.

It is an attitude problem which all Zimbabweans must confront, Matabeleland South Minister of State for Provincial Affairs Honourable Abednico Ncube emphasized during the initial launch of the programme.

The face of Zimbabwe for those who enter through the southern border is Beitbridge and will be for many lifetimes. In that reality, lives the strangest of all annoying trends to the locals here.

“Most people will just cross over the border and take off the litter from their cars just to throw it away anyhow. When they are in Musina, they put the litter in their cars, they keep it in there, the moment they step back home, they start throwing it everywhere. It is an attitude issue,” said Mr Nqobile Ncube, the regional immigration officer at the border post.

This is more annoying to border authorities who see the practice on a day-to-day basis and are calling for attitude change.

Pointers are that while the National Clean-Up Campaign has been persuasive and very engaging, it should slowly graduate to a punitive format also in the future.

“Most people just throw out litter through their vehicles windows as they drive past. They know they cannot get away with that in other countries because they will be punished. But they will do it here and not even feel bad about it,” said one Mr Cain Mukwevho.  

While the clean ups have seen men and women in positions of authority taking a leading role, there is also a feeling that the public should take ownership of the initiative.

It still boils down to attitude argues Mr Norman Mthethwa from the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development.

“It should not just be officials in clean up campaigns. The people must be involved, everyone should come on board voluntarily. We all want a clean nation and this is for the good of everyone,” he said.

It therefore falls that addressing matters of cleanliness can only begin in earnest when attitudes about dirt and littering also change.

To admit that, a dirty environment is good, but to desire to do away with it is even better. There will be many who might take time to refocus their attitudes, but Zimbabwe has done a good thing by starting off this all important campaign.