It’s the usual new brooms, clean white dust coats, and black trash bags.
A neatly dressed pack donning different regalia, from sun-hats to t-shirts also printed with emblems of a certain company or organization that wants to be identified as doing some good and supporting the ‘national event’.
Various government departments ditch their day jobs to support the Presidential clean-up initiative.
Boot-licking and optics
Sources in many government departments attest to have been ordered to render this support or their seniors would face consequences of sabotaging the Head of State.
With every huge group in different cities is at least one prominent politician doing the ‘dirty work’.
The media is invited to publicize all the good President Emmerson Mnangagwa is doing, and how his supporters in different government departments and parastatals are standing behind him.
This is what has become of every first Friday of each month, a day that Zimbabwe’s President has earmarked for the National Clean-Up.
Though this has happened for a year now, the fruits are yet to be enjoyed. The dirt keeps on sprouting both in the city centre, shopping centres and residential areas.
“We have a serious refuse collection and disposal problem in most of our cities especially Harare,” said environmentalist Tedd Matsika.
“Our crisis includes lack of bins at points that have high volumes of traffic. There are obvious perennial refuse collection challenges that councils have failed to address for over a decade.”
Harare has had many dustbins erected courtesy of donations from various stakeholders including the Sunshine City Project, the Nyaradzo Group and other corporate entities over the years.
The bins are however vandalized, some for scrap metal and other materials that are then traded to make different wares.
Some bins also lay in a state of disrepair while most the vandalized take ages to replace, new ones only to be installed when well-wishers come with donations.
Even the ones that are in good working conditions are rarely emptied, most of the times spilling over on pavements while passers-by adding their trash on the spills.
In some residential areas, councils spend weeks without collecting refuse forcing residents to dump waste on open spaces posing serious health and environmental hazard.
The Presidential clean-up could have been a once off occurrence to propel an environmentally aware citizen, but then litter keeps on resurfacing bringing one to wonder what may be going wrong.
Is it that people just want to litter? Well, the obvious answer is that there is a lack of environmental education and community-based participation.
Before the President joined in the fight against irresponsible waste disposal, many communities led by environmental advocacy groups such as Environment Africa, Mukuvisi Woodlands and Miracle Missions were already holding regular clean-ups in different parts of Harare.
Theirs seems to be working because there were serious community engagement and participation.
After cleaning up an area, the community would select litter monitors to bring to book those who violet environmental laws.
It was rare for a repeat of the clean-up since it meant something to the community as opposed to bussed supporters who clean up to make the President look good.
When cleaning up becomes a game of optics, the litter then keeps on resurfacing.
The aforementioned organisations would also offer environmental education at the community level and in schools; teaching people on the importance of reusing material, reducing the use of material which cannot be recycled and also on recycling.
From the education came a group of artists who use recycled material, reducing waste and at the same time making money from their creations.
At one point Environment Africa pioneered a project that saw a giant elephant made from discarded cans being exhibited at the annual Harare International Festival of the Arts.
It became a source of pride and income for the artists, inspiring even more creations such as bins and toys, all made from recycled material.
Upcycling (creative re-use) has since evolved to become a stylish and unique way of interior decorations to paving where molten plastics are moulded into pavers and bricks.
For a clean and environmentally friendly Zimbabwe government and local authorities need to encourage separating waste at source.
The material will then be recycled with bio-degradable refuse used to make biogas or organic manure.
This will, however, only work when and if recycling plants are constructed at different centres across the country, with a capacity to take up all refuse.
As memory serves, there is no bottle recycling plant in Zimbabwe, with collectors taking bottle refuse to South Africa.
This has become expensive especially when beverage companies have reduced returnable bottling opting for dumpies.
There are also very few paper and plastic recycling plants to cater for megatonnes of waste produced each day.
And when it comes to bio-digesters, we are still waiting for the construction of one in Mbare which was fully funded by European Union over half a decade ago.
We also need more as they will also offer a much-needed reprieve on power, feeding into the national grid.
Let’s invest in our environment both in money and in commitment to take care of our refuse and environmental problems.
Failure to do so will lead to detrimental effects including serious health hazards that will cost even more, case in point cholera and typhoid outbreaks that cost millions to curb each year.