People the world over took part in this year’s United Nations World Environment Day – themed “connecting people to nature” – on Monday.
“Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated all over the world,” the UN noted, and encouraged people to “to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and to think about how we are part of nature and how intimately we depend on it.”
This year the Welverdiend village community on the eastern border of the Kruger National Park (KNP) near Orpen Gate under the Bushbuckridge local municipality in Mpumalanga spent the day clearing litter from their street, organised by KNP under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Affairs and sponsored by Total.
The sense of pride is immediately apparent in Werlverdiend. While not a rich community, and even in the dust bowl created by autumn, yards are neatly swept and roads are well kept in a place devoid of litter bins.
With fewer than 8 000 people living on little more than 6 square kilometres, yards are still large and houses mostly roomy in a community which still holds tradition and agriculture dear.
This is evidenced by ornate gravestones in the front of people’s yards, cattle which wander freely and small crops of maize for families to sustain themselves.
“Today, first of all, it is an educational campaign for our young ones. Secondly, we are also saying to communities they need to start taking care of and be accountable for their environment, particularly rural communities because this is their livelihood,” said Total’s corporate social investment manager Nyameka Makonya.
“Once their eco-systems are destroyed, they are in trouble as we know they depend on farming.”
Yet there’s a frustration evident in her address to the community.
Makonya said she had approached park management and told them this was not a day for speeches.
“I want to make another plea to my colleagues at Kruger National Park. When we gather together on this day to clean the environment, we cannot spend two hours of cleaning and spend the rest of the day listening to speeches.”
And therein lies the rub.
Total – and other global corporates – pour massive amounts of money into campaigns and once the T-shirts and caps have been handed out, tummies filled with warm food, and speeches made, they return the following year to a community living largely below the breadline.
Here litter is the least of its problems.
“We’re are going through worldwide climate change and we need to come up with solutions to mitigate the challenges we will be facing,” Makonya said.
“We need to preserve our heritage for upcoming generations.” Next year, the same pleas and the same speeches will most likely play out again but at least one person has noted, it’s time to talk less and do more.