By Mbangwa Xaba

Our society is rotten, figuratively and literally. The stench of the rot is so strong and toxic that it has knocked out all functions of our national conscience. It is so intolerable that no matter how long we can try to dip it in an ocean of premium perfumed statements, the stench will not cease.
Put aside the repugnant moral standards that are lower than the belly of the snake, it is the dirt that irks the most. The level at which we have accepted filth in our neighbourhoods, towns, and even onetime prestigious cities like Johannesburg, even pigs would be ashamed.
Let me confess my sins afront. I am not much of a moralist or environmentalist. If anything, I despise the holier-than-thou brigade that imposes its morality on others. I tend to treat moral standards like religion, as “a matter between man and his God.”

But for God’s sake, can we at least have a level of embarrassment? A moment when we can feel and know disgrace, infamy, and a time when we can recognise indignity!
In our country churches have become crime syndicates, where money is laundered, people are trafficked, drug moles are harvested, corridors of power have become criminal havens where every assortment of crime is committed, and institutions of the state are used to cover all up.

Like a fish that rots from the head, our bureaucracy is devious from the highest office to the most junior official. Citizens buy “cold drinks” on the roads for the junior law enforcement officers, “fast track” every government service in every state institution, “oil” the tender processes, and even women abuse is on the menu. Some must sleep with someone to get a job.

The “lobby” of delegates at political party conferences is much the same as the voting patterns of local councillors at municipal councils. It is done with stashes of cash or positions that will result in some wealth generation for both the individual and the party.
Cash in South African politics is king. Even the head of state is accused of sitting and sleeping on mountains of untraceable amounts of cash in his home!
All this is disgusting enough. But how on earth did we get to a point where it is now normal to live in waste, literally? Every corner in most townships and towns is a dumping site. Streets are lined with rubbish.
With some delight, I recently encountered a neighbour who was mobilising resources, mostly human, to start a vegetable garden on an open piece of land that was now being used as a dumping site.
She reminded me of a man I grew up watching as he cleaned Soweto. With every bone in my body, I believe that Japhta Lekgetho of the National Environmental Awareness Campaign (NEAC), which he established in Soweto in 1977, was ahead of his time.

We grew up taking care of yards in Soweto, every house had its green lawns and beautiful flowers as its pride and joy. Despite living in dusty streets, every open field was that township’s “park” designed and maintained by the local boys. All this was inspired by ntate Lekgetho.
What he did then, is what has made Rwanda the cleanest country in the African continent. Unlike ntate Lekgetho, a single crusader, in Rwanda, the government enforces national community work which focuses on environmental clean-up.
They have Umuganda, which is pretty much the same as our Mandela Day except this is much more serious and not a celebrity photo opportunity for an hour like we do here.
It is a national holiday in Rwanda where, every last Saturday of the month it is mandatory, for all Rwandese to work on a nationwide community work from 08:00 to 11:00. Participation in Umuganda is required by law, and failure to participate can result in a fine.

In June this year, Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, hosted more than 50 Commonwealth countries for the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Despite many attractive factors like easy connecting flights throughout the world and an easy visa process, Kigali’s desirability comes from its remarkable turnaround in becoming the cleanest city in the African continent.
In fact, in 2018, UN Environment Programme Head Eric Solheim referred to Kigali as the “cleanest city on the planet,” both in terms of lack of street rubbish and green initiatives.
When we celebrated freedom in 1994, Rwanda experienced the darkest chapter in its history. As many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, were butchered in what was to be known as the Rwandan genocide.

The genocide spread throughout the country with shocking speed and brutality. Ordinary citizens were incited by local officials and the Hutu Power government to take up arms against their neighbours. By the time the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front gained control of the country through a military offensive, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were dead and 2 million refugees (mainly Hutus) fled Rwanda, exacerbating what had already become a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
But the human spirit prevailed in this traumatised nation of about 13 million people.
More than anything else, the Rwandese took pride in their dignity and their cleanliness.
Like us, Rwanda had its share of a corrupt and violent past, but in their case, to make matters worse, that country is poorer and is surrounded by violent crime in nearby countries like Kenya and Tanzania.
However, despite all that, Rwanda’s crime is nothing close to the hell we live in. The streets of Kigali are safe. In Rwanda, rules and laws are largely enforced and of course, it is remarkably clean, with well-paved main streets and a sheen of order. I am green with envy.

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