Sustainable development will be our new competitive advantage

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Feb 23, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

Before I went to the boarding school and before I was exposed to an integrated teaching staff for the first time, I never knew that there was something wrong with littering.

Our teachers used a combination of tactics to reinforce what I would call environmental good behaviour. We were punished, penalised and sanctioned for littering.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, the author of Living with Teenagers: A Guide for Muslim Parents, says one should try to differentiate in one’s mind between punishment, penalty and sanctions:

“Punishment is really the wilful infliction of physical or emotional harm on another person who is seen to have done something wrong or offensive to you. Penalty is different – this is a price paid for infringing a particular regulation. A sanction is the curtailment or limiting of availability of a particular resource.”

South Africa has never paid enough attention to environmental care and no one is being punished, penalised or sanctioned for littering. I live in Mogale City and I have been questioning the role the executive mayor, municipal manager and the municipal police play to ensure that residents keep the city clean.

People have no respect for the environment. The new taxi rank is ridden with litter and there is garbage everywhere in the city. Street vendors care more about profit than they do about the environment.

Some political parties are obsessed with the land question but I have not heard of any political party that talks about environmental care. According to the Freedom Charter: “The land belongs to all who live in it.” What is the use of having land if you do not take care of the environment?

Rwanda is a perfect example of an African country that is faultlessly beautiful. Every street in Rwanda is handsomely paved and the surface is neat and true as a floor – not marred by potholes like most of our decaying cities. People do not litter and there is law and order, which the citizens follow religiously.

Instead of seeing garbage and drug addicts on the roads, there are some roses planted which are attractive to the eye. As opposed to our South African human rights orientation, there is a $10 (R190) penalty for infringing the littering regulations. Rwanda is an environmentally and law-abiding country.

In 1886, William Cornelius Van Horne, the general manager of the Canadian Pacific Rail, said: “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourist.” Rwanda is not able to export its scenery but the country is importing tourists from all over the world. This is visionary leadership at its best as opposed to collective leadership.

When a tourist has to choose between either South Africa and Rwanda, they would settle for Rwanda because of environmental cleanliness, safety, security, law and order. These are the new core competencies for the new world.

Tourists are no longer interested in historical relics. Before the visit a country, they ask themselves: Will my family and I be safe? Does the government maintain law and order? How do people treat their environment? Tourists are investors whom you must import to come and enjoy your scenery.

It is time mayors and municipal managers enforced the law to ensure that their municipalities are clean and penalties are imposed on environmental offenders. This should part of their performance management. I hope that the unveiling of the ANC manifesto tomorrow will deal with clean governance.

“What gets measured, gets done,” says a management proverb. It would be difficult to manage environmental cleanliness if it was not part of performance measurement. Political parties must not pay lip service to environmental issues. The narrative that says littering creates work for municipal workers must stop.

The oppressive heat in South Africa has compelled me to read The Key to The Predictions of Nostradamus by Bardo Kidogo. Nostradamus predicted the consequences of the destruction of the ozone layer, which was sounded three centuries before the warning of scientists today: “Ultra-violet light will cause skin-cancer and blindness. All men and animals, even the most powerful, will succumb.”

This also confirms what Chief Seattle once said: man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself. President Cyril Ramaphosa played an important role during Covid-19. It is time for him to zero-in on the environment.

What is the use of political parties scrambling for power if all of us will succumb because of the destruction of the ozone layer?

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in Construction Management.

The Star